By Jesse Wood
Jan. 22, 2014. Blue Ridge Realty & Investments has come full circle since John Rice founded the company in 1981. In the early ‘80s, Rice opened an office in the same building that Able Body would eventually move into a decade later. Now more than 30 years since Rice began the enterprise, Blue Ridge Realty has since repurchased the property along N.C. 105 in Boone and recently finished renovations to what is now its main office.
Compared to when Rice began his foray into real estate decades ago, Rice said the real estate market is, of course, quite different today. For example, he mentioned that the sheer number of high-end properties that exist today weren’t prevalent back than and consumers demanded old farmhouses and lots of two acres or more.
“Half-acre or one-acre lots weren’t popular back then,” said Rice.
Before purchasing Yonahlossee Resort in 1985 and Sunalei Preserve in 2001, Blue Ridge Realty started several developments in Valle Crucis – Hickory Ridge, Dutch Creek Woods, Valle Overlook and Valle Landing, among others. See attached map of Blue Ridge Realty communities to the right.
While offering a vast array of homes and lots in the High Country, Blue Ridge Realty is known for blending elegant developments that have long-term value with the surrounding environment. Picture Yonahlossee Resort, a former camp located in Boone and Blowing Rock that was known in Cherokee as “Trail of the Bear,” and Sunalei Preserve, which borders Elk Knob State Park, as examples of developments meshing seamlessly with the natural landscape.
A New Generation of Owners
During 2014, Bill Aceto, 29, and Rice’s son Todd Rice, 40, who are currently both brokers with the firm, are transitioning into co-owners of Blue Ridge Realty. (As it stands, John Rice and Mary Jane Rice, his wife and manager of Blue Ridge Realty, own the company.) Before delving into the real estate business, the younger Rice worked with major hotel corporations in the big cities of Dallas, Denver, Chicago and New York for more than a decade.
Standing in the office in Boone, Todd Rice recalled standing in an elevator with his boss at 10 p.m. one evening in one of those big cities, wondering if he wanted that to be him in 10 years. While Rice now works his tail off in the High Country, Rice said the mountains seemed like a better place to raise a family, a better pace of living. So he moved back to the Boone area in 2004. Rice is married to Tuesdae and both are the parents of Thomas, born in 2010, and Sophia, born in 2012.
Aceto, a native of Montreat, began his career in real estate while a student at Appalachian State University. While in college he studied for his real estate license on the weekends, managed a property and started his own business, High Country Spa and Maintenance, one that he still runs today. He began working at Blue Ridge Realty as an intern with Todd and joined the company as a broker in 2007. Aceto is married to Sallie Brincefield Aceto.
The elder Rice guessed that if Aceto and his son weren’t the most successful real estate agents in the High Country, they are among the top 10.
“I think they are on a very, very good track,” John Rice said. “I think these guys work very hard, have a lot of contacts, are enthusiastic and are very good with the business and very careful with how they conduct themselves. They are honest, straightforward and that pays off in the long run for sure.”
While John Rice is handing over the reigns to a younger generation, he isn’t retiring, stating that he will stay pretty busy and push Sunalei properties a “little harder.”
“I am going to stay in the business, Rice said, “but I’ll be working for them now.”
Branching Into Rentals, Property Management
Aceto and Rice currently own and operate Blue Ridge Professional Property Services and Boone High Country Rentals. They expanded into the property management and rental business in 2010, which was about when the economy bottomed out during the Great Recession. Aceto mentioned that the two shifted their focus when homes weren’t selling.
“I had one very good year [selling properties],” Aceto quipped, referring to obtaining his license in 2006 and then watching the real estate market tank soon after.
The two companies – Blue Ridge Professional Property Services and Boone High Country Rentals – offer a full-range of property management services in Avery, Ashe and Watauga counties that includes home repair, absentee maintenance, long-term rentals and commercial rentals. The scope of services also covers the coordination and preparation for selling bank-owned or other properties, where their company will clean a property, spruce it up and rent, sell or manage the property for the lender or owner.
All of these services come with the goal of becoming a “one-stop shop” for clients, and this diversification has proved successful. In addition, the number of rentals – which nearly 100 exist within a five-mile radius of Boone – has doubled each year since beginning the operation four years ago.
“We are excited about what’s ahead,” Todd Rice said.
It’s a Team Effort
The phrase “team effort” came up more than once when talking about the success of the company that is more than 30 years old.
“I think we are small and work good as a team. There is no in fighting. We have meetings every week and know what each other is doing. We support each other,” John Rice said, adding that the variety of properties and lots and knowledge of the local market has contributed to the success of the company, too.
Deborah Kirksey, office manager of Blue Ridge Realty, has been an employee of Blue Ridge Realty since 1989. She’s a native of Avery County and attended Appalachian State University when she was younger. When asked about her longevity at the real estate firm, she mentioned the atmosphere of the office and the character of the “great group” that has surrounded her at work everyday for about 25 years.
“They are honest. It’s been a good working environment. I’ve stayed very busy. I like working with John and now carrying on with Todd and Bill,” Kirksey said. “We all mesh together well.”
Current Health of the Market
Looking ahead, the staff of Blue Ridge Realty mentions that things are looking better. While the entire market isn’t completely rosy, “it is,” as John Rice put it, “on the right track.” Todd Rice and Aceto both mentioned that while lower dollar amounts exist, that decline is offset by more demand judged by an increase in call activity and transaction volumes.
John Rice also mentioned that last year was the “best year” in real estate since 2007, which was about the tail end of the real estate market heyday.
“So I am reasonably optimistic,” John Rice said.
Blue Ridge Realty & Investments’ main office is located at 2271 N.C. 105 in Boone. You can reach the Boone office at 828-263-8711. The Yonahlossee Resort office is located at 226 Oakley Green Road in Boone. You can reach the resort office at 828-963-7370.
Find out more information or contact Blue Ridge Professional Property Services by clicking on the web or calling 828-262-4646.
Find out more information or contact Boone High Country Rentals by clicking on the web or calling 828-262-4646.