How to Pick a Smoky Mountain Investment/Vacation Home?
There are many features of an investment or second home property here in the Smokies that combine to impact its value. While this list is not comprehensive it will serve as a basic primer for someone considering Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge area real estate here in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.
Location certainly is key and there is no substitute for a property that is within walking distance to the center of town. Although parking is not the challenge it once was in Gatlinburg due to the creation of several new parking garages a few years ago it is still a major benefit to be able to leave the car at your cabin or chalet and hop a trolley or better still walk to the Parkway. Another obvious premium location for rentals here is to be in very close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park in all of the United States. A third premium location is to be convenient to Dollywood, the largest commercial attraction in Sevier County. Although any one of these type locations can be a very successful rental my personal rule of thumb is that an overnight rental property should be no more than a maximum of 15 minutes drive from at least one of these attractions. Our visitors get to the Gatlinburg area primarily by driving and our typical guest drives anywhere from 200 to 800 miles to get here. As our typical stay is only around 3 nights they will then quickly repeat the journey in order to return home. It therefore stands to reason that a vacationing guest will likely NOT want to drive a great deal while they are here. Any property that doesn’t meet this proximity test should not be considered if you wish to offer the property as a vacation rental and expect it to succeed.
Construction Type is another key variable in trying to predict rental success. While the popularity of various construction styles and materials come and go there are a few constants. In general, the more wood the better guests feel. Additionally in many ways the more unlike a typical residence the better. The worst possible overnight rental would be a vinyl sided or brick rancher because that is likely what our guest already has at home. Steep roof lines, lots of glass, large open rooms and wood interiors may not be practical for a primary residence but are perfect in the vacation home that our visitors are looking for. If you keep as a guide “what they don’t have at home” you will generally do well. Log or log look homes (traditional frame construction with siding that gives the impression of log) are very much in vogue right now and have been for some time. I don’t see this trend changing any time soon so it confirms the “more wood the better” theme.
Accessibility (not to be confused with location) is another key. Our area’s mountainous topography naturally causes difficult lots meaning that driveways can often be a real challenge. Guests from more flat states like Florida, Alabama, or Indiana can be very intimidated by a steep driveway and this makes selling (and renting) these homes a real challenge. If the driveway puts you off it will do the same for guests so avoid steep or difficult driveways.
View is probably the single most important factor in determing the value and likely success of a vacation rental property in the mountains. An unobstructed year round view of the National Park is our equivalent of ocean front for other areas and its value cannot be overstated. Some properties have what is called a winter view meaning that when the trees drop their leaves you then have a good view. Unfortunately for these owners our winters are rather brief and most of our guests come during the other nine months of the year so winter views are a small consolation indeed. A view of an attractive mountain that is not in the national park can change as our area is constantly being further developed. The serene scene you have today may look very different in a short time. Sadly many very pretty hillsides and mountain tops have been carelessly developed leaving a very different view from the surrounding homes. This is why an unobstructed year round view of the National Park is without a doubt golden. Sadly these type views are also rare.