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Pricing Riverfront Property – Unraveling the Mystery
By Pat Trainor, Blue Ridge Real Estate
Pricing Riverfront Property – Unraveling the Mystery
Variation in pricing from one property to another

Virtually every buyer I encounter looking for river or creek front property in the North Georgia Mountains, asks the same questions, why is there so much variation in pricing from one property to another? In this article, I intend to bring some clarity to this issue. Many factors contribute to a lots value or lack thereof. Such as:

River View
Lovely Fightingtown Creek View

Lot Size: The average buyer thinks that the more acreage you get and the lower the price per acre the better value. While the amount of acreage does influence the pricing of mountain property, it is the terrain and creek or river characteristics that ultimately determine the per acre value of the land. Usability of the land is the key, with mountain property, steep land or land that has numerous springs, may greatly affect the density of building sites (yield) a developer can get out of a large tract of land. Last year I looked at a 6.5 acre lot on the Toccoa River, sounds great doesn't it? But it only had 110' of frontage and was 4,500' deep. The ½ acre fronting the river had most of the value; the rest of the land went up a hillside and was hardly usable. A 1 ½ acre lot with 300' of frontage could bring a higher sales price, depending on terrain and river characteristics.

 North Georgia Stream   Stream Size: This really causes a lot of confusion for the buyer, as many realtors misrepresent the creek size on the MLS sheets, either willfully or due to lack of experience. I once showed a listing where the listing agent claimed the log cabin overlooked “a noisy cascading waterfall”. When we arrived at the cabin what we found was a wet weather culvert that, during heavy rain, had water cascading out the culvert pipe. Fortunately, it was raining the day we visited the cabin, so we got to see the “cascading waterfall” at its best.

  Generally, the larger the stream, creek, river or lake the more value you can assign to the lot. However, as I will discuss later in this article, size alone does not determine the lot's value. I showed a cabin, listed by the “cascading waterfall” agent, which was described the lot as “hard to find creek frontage”. When we arrived at the cabin, we looked for the creek and found a series of cardboard signs with black arrows leading down a goat trail to a small creek. As least they told the truth on the MLS description, as it really was hard to find the creek without the signs. We would have never known it was there.

Mountain Streams can be categorized as follows;

Mountain Spring – Here in North Georgia we are blessed with crystal clear artesian spring water which bubbles up from the ground. Spring water is the source of most all our creeks and rivers that run all year long. A springs flow would probably be describes as having less than 15 gallons per minute flow and be no more than a foot or two wide.

Branch – As water flow increases, a spring turns into a branch. I consider a branch as something I can step over without getting my feet wet. As a branch increases in size it becomes a “Bold Branch” where you would have to jump to cross it.

Creek – A small creek is something you would get your shoes wet when crossing. It might be ankle deep and 4 or 5 feet wide. As creeks continues down the watershed, more branches and small creeks join together creating a larger creek. Note: Even our small streams are designated as trout streams by the DNR and have stringent regulations for developing near the waterway. Even if a stream is too small to support trout, sediment and pollutants will eventually end up in a stream that does contain trout.

Toccoa River for Trout Fishing
Trout Stream – Is a creek large enough to support trout and has more value than a creek of similar size that does not support trout. This is where the average agent is wholly lacking in knowledge and will often unintentionally mislead their buyers. Trout need more than ample water volume to survive. They need cool, clean, oxygenated water with habitat and an ample food source. There are only a few areas where trout fisherman can catch native fish and that is mostly in hard to access areas of the United States Forestry Service (USFS). The state has an excellent stocking program and rivers, like the Toccoa River, are the best bets for actually catching trout. Many other streams are privately stocked in sections, like this private section of Mountaintown Creek at, and trout fishermen have the opportunity to catch larger numbers of trophy fish. If you do not buy property on a state stocked stream or river or get in an area that is privately managed, your chances of catching fish are pretty remote.

River – A river is our largest flowing body of water and is usually navigable by canoes, kayaks and drift boats. A river lot will command a higher sales price than most creek lots and is the most valuable property with the exception of lake front lots.

Terrain Characteristics – Terrain is one of the most important things to take into consideration in valuating mountain land, particularly on creek or river front property. A lot that has a gentle slope, easy driveway access, and cabin that is, or can be, situated as close to the creek or river as the setbacks allow, yet out of the flood zone, is more desirable than a house site on top of a hill with a hundred steps or more to the water. A wooded lot is much more desirable than a lot that has been clear of all foliage. A lot with lots of mature hardwood trees, mountain laurel, rhododendrons, and hemlock trees is more desirable than a lot with lots of scrub pine trees. Many creek and river lots have an embankment (a vertical drop from 5' to 15') making access to the water very difficult without steps. A lot with a steep embankment is less desirable than a lot with easy walk-in access.

North Georgia Stream
North Georgia Stream

  River Characteristics – This is one of the most important considerations in valuating creek and river property. The most valuable lot has huge rocks with bold rapids, lots of whitewater and noise, and is much more valuable than a lot with placid tranquil water. It is so hard to use comparable properties in pricing creek and river lots because the nature of the water and terrain can be so different from a lot sold just a short distance away. The amount of frontage and privacy is another crucial piece of the puzzle, here quantity really counts - the more the better. Creek and river front property is so valuable that most developers try to maximize the number of lots fronting the creek or river, and having 100' to 120' frontage, is most common.

Trout Fishing
Trout Fishing for the Big Ones!
  On the other side – Ok, would you rather look across the stream and see a beautifully wooded forest covered with mountain laurel and wild azaleas in full bloom, or a cabin on a clear cut lot with people sitting on the back porch. One question everyone asks when looking at creek or river property is, what's on the other side? It may be wooded now, but private land can, and probably will be, developed at some point in the future. The two best ways to protect your view and privacy is to buy the property across from you as an investment or find a tract of land that has USFS on the other side. However, either of these options are much easier said than done.

I hope this article helps to take the mystery out of creek and river lot pricing. To summarize, the most valuable river lot would be one that joins USFS on the opposite side, or where you can own both sides, has huge boulders with noisy whitewater rapids, easy walk-in access, great privately managed trout fishing, the cabin located 50' from the river, yet out of the flood zone, 300' or more frontage, very private, and a gentle lot with relatively easy road access. If you can find this perfect lot, it would cost between 250K and 300K. River lots in North Georgia typically sell for 150K to 250K because perfection is so hard to find. Creek lots on a decent trout stream will sell for 125K to 200K, depending on the quality of the lot. Smaller streams will bring 75K to 125K. Lots with a bold branch could sell in the 40K to 75K range.

Article by Pat Trainor is the owner of, a site that offers the most comprehensive tools for buyers looking buy or sell real estate in the North Georgia Mountains. Visit his site for detailed MLS search of 15,000 active listings. Pat is an Associate Broker for Coldwell Banker High Country Realty located in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

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