KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Kingsport’s metro area has joined Johnson City’s in the top 10 of a closely watched, Wall Street Journal/ national quarterly housing markets index that Johnson City topped in the fall.

Kingsport’s metropolitan statistical area (MSA) ranked seventh among more than 300 metro housing markets in the quarterly “emerging housing markets” index released Wednesday. The article showed that was up from 37th in the fall.

Johnson City’s MSA, meanwhile, posted its third straight quarter in the top five. The quarterly index lists the top 20 markets each time. Johnson City was #3 in the summer, #1 in the fall and #5 in Wednesday’s rankings.

The article made clear what community characteristics the latest rankings, amid a generally softening housing market nationwide, tended to favor:

“(H)ousing markets that offer shoppers a lower cost of living, including for homes, relatively steady real estate indicators amid a broader market in flux, and thriving local economies that are attractive, but not too crowded.”

Jeff Fleming works for “Move to Kingsport” and is a former city manager. He told News Channel 11 that Kingsport’s entry in the top 10 doesn’t surprise him.

“Because of what’s happening with affordability across the country we show really well right now,” Fleming said.

Jeff Fleming of Move to Kingsport said he’s not surprised that the metro area is considered one of the nation’s strongest housing markets. (WJHL photo)

Move to Kingsport uses targeted advertising to appeal to people in areas where data show folks have already moved to Kingsport. Out of 2,204 families who moved to Kingsport from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2022, 269 were from Florida and 216 from California. Tennessee topped the list with 399, but people moved from every state, and Fleming said the numbers from California and other more distant states have been rising.

Jan Stapleton is president of the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors and works out of Kingsport. She said so-called “in-migration” from other states was putting the area on the map.

“Our house prices are still lower than the national average, and the taxes are lower,” she said. “Our lifestyle here is easier, much less traffic, so it’s a great place to live.”

Fleming said he believes many people did “a reset” during the pandemic.

“They started thinking about what was important to them, what they really wanted in a community, and then we started to try to appeal to those things,” he said. “They wanted low taxes, they wanted affordable housing, they wanted amenities, they want great public schools so they didn’t have to pay for private schools. And we check a lot of those boxes.”

Thursday’s article specifically mentioned many of the emerging markets being “an affordable refuge from high costs,” both in home prices and cost of living. Kingsport’s $299,900 median home price in December was 25% lower than the national average — and the article specifically called out another attractive point in the metro area’s favor.

“Some locales such as Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, Tenn-Va. offer just over 14% savings compared to the national cost of living,” the authors wrote. They also noted that even in a national market where sales have slowed and inventories have grown, the high-ranked markets have been more stable and also seen higher price appreciation than the national average.

NETAR’s Stapleton said the market has cooled just a bit from early 2022, when houses might have eight or 10 contract offers and sellers often got above their asking prices.

“But they’re still selling for the price,” she said. And even with a slight easing of demand, Realtors still believe the inventory of available homes isn’t quite where they’d like it to be.

Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors president Jan Stapleton said Kingsport-Bristol’s inclusion on the emerging housing markets list didn’t surprise her. (WJHL photo)

“Hot is not always perfect, because you’ve got one house with six, eight offers on it and somebody’s not going to be happy because only one person is going to get that house,” Stapleton said. “I like to see homeownership for everybody.”

Fleming said growth in the two metro areas is as strong as he’s ever seen it. That steady growth is something the area needed after a decade or more of stagnant to negative population growth, he said.

“If you don’t bring people in from outside to shore up the economy, the economy will shrink. We are nowhere close to being at risk of high growth in this area.

“We could be shrinking like a Rust Belt, we could be booming at 20% like Nashville, Murfreesboro, which is unsustainable in my opinion or we could be just right, which is what I think the Tri-Cities are,” Fleming said.

Stapleton believes the internet has a lot to do with the region’s growth, including the proliferation of stories about the housing market and how many people are choosing to live here.

“They search to see what the cost of living is, what the affordability is, so yes, the internet’s our buddy, she said.

The winter rankings also listed the Knoxville market at #14. Columbus, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisc. were the only two markets with populations of over a million people.

The WSJ/ 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:

  • Unemployment
  • Wages
  • Regional price parities
  • Share of foreign-born
  • Small businesses
  • Amenities (measured by per capita “everyday splurge” stores
  • Commute
  • Estimated effective real estate taxes