JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — After making multiple top 10 lists for its housing market, the Johnson City metro area has cracked the top spot in the Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com’s quarterly list of emerging housing markets.
The metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of just over 200,000 (Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties) ranked third nationally on that list in the summer. The list covers 300 metro areas, and the Nashville metro also made the latest top 20 at No. 13.
Johnson City has been in the top 20 in five of the six rankings since the list debuted last year, and was No. 3 in the summer list released in July.
Realtor.com’s chief economist, Danielle Hale, wrote of the fall list that it “highlights housing markets that offer shoppers healthy local economies, vibrant local business communities, and the kind of lifestyle features that will continue to draw others in.
“The index identifies markets that we believe are well-positioned for both homeowners and investors who are looking to make a purchase to consider.”
The article noted that Johnson City was among three top 20 markets with affordability that offers an overall cost of living 10% or more below the national average.
The fact that a photo looking west from Main Street near the front of News Channel 11’s building, maple trees ablaze with color, is gracing the front of a Wall Street Journal article was not lost on Johnson City Mayor Joe Wise.
“It kind of confirms what we already know,” Wise said. “It’s a nice place to live.”
He said whatever algorithm the various best-of lists use is a key factor, but he acknowledged the metro is scoring high on a number of such lists. Wise said the city is embarking on a growth management plan with the aim of avoiding some pitfalls that can accompany fast growth.
Affordability is one of those.
“We are keenly aware that growth has the potential to negatively impact affordability,” Wise said. “We are working very deliberately to evaluate an approach to growth management that will keep the qualities of Johnson City that we like while still supporting the growth that is going to happen regardless of what we do.”
Indeed, the new ranking shows the Johnson City market with a $379,000 median home price, up from $350,000 when it ranked third three months earlier. Johnson City ranked 17th in the spring and was in the top 10 in the summer and fall of 2021.
The remote/broadband factor
While the region’s typically noted positives — outdoor amenities, climate, tax structure, cost of living — were cited in both the Hale article and a Journal piece by Nicole Friedman, Friedman also mentioned Johnson City’s remote worker relocation program. She noted about 280 people have applied and 40 have been accepted into a program that offers $2,500 or more to relocating remote workers who meet certain qualifications.
Mitch Miller, CEO of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NETREP), said the regional effort (participants can live anywhere in Washington County and also in Elizabethton) to attract talent has helped boost Johnson City’s stock.
“More and more people are able to telecommute, which means they can live anywhere they want,” Miller said. “It’s exciting to see our region rank this high, and it shows that communities of our size are extremely attractive. We need to continue to capitalize on this and explore how our region can benefit beyond the housing market.”
Wise said community leaders helped set the area up for success when they formed Johnson City Energy Authority (BrightRidge) from Johnson City Power Board several years ago, partly in order to allow for municipal fiber to the home broadband internet.
“We kind of had ideas about what the future would hold,” Wise said of BrightRidge’s formation just over two years before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. “Nobody had any idea of what the future would actually hold.”
As it turned out, remote work exploded and as Wise puts it, “We were ready with capacity when the culture was ready with inclination.”
The WSJ/Realtor.com methodology breaks down into two broad categories of real estate market and economic health/quality of life. Sub-indicators include real estate demand, real estate supply and median listing price trend for real estate.
For economic and quality of life they include:
- Regional price parities
- Share of foreign-born
- Small businesses
- Amenities (measured by per capita “everyday splurge” stores
- Estimated effective real estate taxes