It’s a tough market out there for luxury real estate, but maybe an on-site Reverend of Fat can help spur sales.
The reverend’s services are just one of the amenities that will be available to prospective buyers in Blackberry Mountain Houses, a new residential development that gives fans of Blount County’s ultra-posh Blackberry Farm resort the chance to buy a home on the premises.
The project encompasses 18 lots on 30 acres - although three of those lots already have been sold - and is aimed at the sort of upscale audience willing to pay nearly $1.7 million for a three-bedroom cottage on a half-acre lot.
Several luxury projects in East Tennessee have fallen on hard times during the economic downturn, but the backers of Blackberry Mountain Houses are taking a unique approach. The project has no bank financing, which means the owners aren’t under pressure to sell lots quickly, and its backers tout their “show-me” approach - the project infrastructure already has been installed and a model home has been completed.
“Our Blackberry guest does not want pictures and promises,” explained Tyler Congleton, who is the managing partner of Blackberry Development Company.
On a recent morning, Congleton - whose resume includes work with a residential community at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia - and affiliate broker Brian Lee gave a quick tour of the site before dropping by the Elkmont Cottage model home for a visit with Kreis Beall.
Beall and her husband, Ruby Tuesday Inc. CEO Sandy Beall, created the resort.
Kreis Beall designed the interior of the model cottage, which features an open floor plan with 10-foot ceilings on the main level, a large living-room window with a panoramic view of Hurricane Mountain, and shiplap siding on the interior. “I love wood walls and ceilings,” she said. Also on the first floor are the master bedroom, a screened-in porch with a fireplace and flat-screen television, and a small kitchen.
Plans call for 11 turnkey cottages - three-bedroom homes similar to the Elkmont model - with prices starting at $1.69 million. In addition, seven lots for custom homes are available with prices ranging from $700,000 to $1.3 million, not including the home price.
While Blackberry’s reputation is built on exclusivity, backers of the new project don’t seem concerned about diluting that brand. Congleton said the development is a “direct response” to requests by Blackberry guests for ownership opportunities, and Beall pointed out that Blackberry is her home, too - a good incentive to preserve its unique appeal.
Part of that appeal certainly will come from the resort itself, which is on 4,400 acres and has 62 guest rooms spread along the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Buyers in the Mountain Houses will have access to Blackberry’s concierge support, and services including house-cleaning, pantry-stocking and personalized holiday decorating.
They’ll also be able to enjoy a food experience that has garnered national and international accolades. During a visit last week, for example, employees in the Blackberry larder were wrapping up production of 7,000 jars of homemade peanut butter and getting ready to make pickled beets and strawberries.
Outside the larder, Blackberry’s charcutier, Michael Sullivan, talked about the resort’s approach to the preparation and curing of meat. Sullivan’s enthusiastic explanation touched on his approach to aging beef and his perusal of history books to learn about the socio-historical factors that led to a decline in use of the whole animal rather than just the prime cuts.
During the Great Depression, he said, many people were eating off-cuts of meat, and their subsequent refusal to go back to those cuts influenced the next generation of diners. Sullivan said that has started to change, citing the slow food movement as an example, and said his goal is to “take these lesser cuts and actually make them better than … the prime cuts” - hence his nickname, the Reverend of Fat.
While Sullivan said he buys a lot of pork from a co-op in Iowa, Blackberry also has livestock on site. According to its website, the resort has a flock of East Friesian and Karakul sheep, plus Delaware Speckled Sussex, and Partridge Rock chickens.
And while sheep may be an unusual selling point, the Mountain Houses team is betting that the combination of a world-class, farm-to-table dining experience; sporting activities including fishing, shooting and horseback riding; and the natural beauty of the Smokies may be enough to transform resort fans into buyers.
“An owner is not just buying a house here,” said Lee, who also is the resort’s director of guest relations. “An owner is buying into all of these services that are available to them.”
Blackberry Mountain House amenities include:
Personalized holiday decorating
Horse and pet care
In-home chef service
Golf cart use