How Nascar Turned This Lakefront Community Into One of America’s Hottest Luxury Housing Markets | Kanebridge News
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How Nascar Turned This Lakefront Community Into One of America’s Hottest Luxury Housing Markets

The sport has become the driving force behind the Lake Norman area’s popularity, as big names like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin have built some of North Carolina’s most luxurious homes there

By LIBERTINA BRANDT
Tue, Dec 6, 2022 8:51amGrey Clock 9 min

Luxury real-estate markets across the country are propelled by the biggest local industries, whether it’s high finance in New York, big oil in Texas, Walmart in Bentonville, Ark., or Hollywood in L.A. On North Carolina’s Lake Norman, there’s no disputing the driver: It’s Nascar.

The Lake Norman area, located roughly 20 miles north of Charlotte, N.C., has long been home to some of Nascar’s most successful drivers, thanks to its proximity to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the headquarters of some of the sport’s best known teams. Over the past decade, some of the wealthiest drivers have plowed their winnings into building and buying some of the state’s most luxurious residences, helping to propel the local market to new heights.

Local agents say that, as a result, prices in the Lake Norman area are higher than they’ve ever seen. In Mooresville, N.C., roughly 10 miles east of the lake, racer Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is listing his 140-acre equestrian estate for $15.995 million, records show. In Cornelius, N.C., slightly farther south, a lakefront estate owned by telecommunications entrepreneur Robert Stevanovski and his wife, Sonya Stevanovski, is asking $16 million. If either traded for close to its asking price, it would set a record for the area, where prices have historically topped out around $8 million, agents said.

The median sale price for a home in Cornelius, N.C., has gone up by about 114%, to $476,000 from $222,000, since 2012, according to data from Realtor.com, while the median sale price for a home in Mooresville has gone up by about 118%, to $428,000 from $196,000. In comparison, the median sale price for a U.S. home rose by 91% between 2012 and 2022, to $342,000 from $179,000. Between January and August, the average median sale price was 21.8% higher in Cornelius and 28.1% higher in Mooresville compared with the average median sale price in 2021, outpacing the U.S. market’s 15.6% sale price growth for that period, the data show. (News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, also operates Realtor.com under license from the National Association of Realtors.)

Agents attribute at least some of that upward momentum to the cash that’s poured into the market from Nascar over the past decade. Real-estate agent Reed Jackson of Ivester Jackson said that, on listings priced at $2 million or more, he’s likely to have interest from a buyer that’s somehow tied to the Nascar industry.

Among the most impressive Nascar-linked properties in the area is a roughly 300-acre estate outside of Mooresville owned by driver and Nascar Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., who started assembling land in 2002 and has continued adding to it since. He lived in a modular home there until he replaced it with a new four-bedroom home, which was completed in 2008. It has a basement bar room with a theatre and pool table, he said. Mr. Earnhardt declined to offer details about the home’s size, or the cost of construction. He met his wife, Amy Earnhardt, when she was on the design team he hired for the project.

Mr. Earnhardt, 48, is a third-generation race-car driver. His late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was a seven-time Nascar champion. Mr. Earnhardt Jr. competed in the Nascar Cup Series from 1999 to 2017 and retired from the series with 26 cup wins including two Daytona 500 wins. Today, he spends his time running his racing team, JR Motorsports, which he’s owned since 2006. He is also an analyst for NBC Sports, hosts a podcast called “Dale Jr. Download” for his company, Dirty Mo Media, and just launched a vodka brand, High Rock, with Ms. Earnhardt.

Their estate has a string of unusual amenities, including an 800-square-foot treehouse with a loft that was built in 2015. The pièce de résistance: an elaborate life-size replica of an old western town in the backyard, complete with a saloon, a sheriff’s office with two jail cells, a bank with teller windows, and a church. Most of the buildings are just for show with a few props inside. Initially, Mr. Earnhardt used the town for partying with friends, but now that he and his wife have children, the space is mostly used for birthday parties, charitable events and sometimes music videos, he said. The inspiration came from watching the musician Willie Nelson on television giving a tour of a property he owned in Texas, which included an old western town movie set.

The property has some Nascar-inspired details, including about 70 acres of wooded, four-wheeler trails dotted with about 80 old race cars that have been ruined in accidents by his team and other teams across the industry.

“I call it the race-car graveyard,” Mr. Earnhardt said. “We go out there and ride the trails and there’ll be cars around every corner. You just never know what you’re going to see.”

Another of the area’s most valuable homes, according to local agents, is a roughly 30,000-square–foot lakefront estate on a peninsula in Cornelius built around 2016 for driver Denny Hamlin. The house is a sports fan’s paradise, with a full-length indoor basketball court, a putting green, a bowling alley, a golf simulator and a billiards area, as well as a large lounge with numerous TV screens, a spokesman for Mr. Hamlin confirmed. A Toyota race car that Mr. Hamlin drove to victory at the Daytona 500 in 2016 is on display inside a glass garage bay, complete with confetti still on the chassis from Victory Lane. There is also an area where Mr. Hamlin, who has won close to 50 Nascar Cup Series races as well as three Daytona 500s, displays his trophies and racing memorabilia. Local agents estimated that construction of the home could have cost between $15 million and $20 million. Mr. Hamlin declined to comment.

Driver Mr. Stenhouse’s home, the one on the market for $15.995 million, is evidence of Nascar’s continued influence on the area. Over the past two decades, it’s been owned by three prominent drivers, Ernie Irvan, Joe Nemechek and Mr. Stenhouse, who is now listing it for sale. The massive, 140-acre equestrian estate has a more than 9,000-square-foot home and an outdoor entertaining area with a lounge pavilion and an infinity pool.

The Nascar community began developing around the Charlotte area decades ago because it was central to many of the tracks that hosted races, according to Nascar Hall of Fame’s executive director, Winston Kelley. It was the birthplace of Holman-Moody in 1957, a major race-car manufacturing and restoration company and former race team, Mr. Kelley said. Even more eyes were drawn to the area in the 1960s, when the popular Charlotte Motor Speedway was completed in Concord, roughly 20 miles southeast of the lake. The track was among the largest at the time, Mr. Kelley said.

While many of the smaller, original tracks are no longer in business, the proximity of the Charlotte Motor Speedway still makes the area a racing hub. In Mooresville alone, which has been dubbed “Race City USA,” there are 54 motorsport manufacturers and teams with over 2,500 employees, according to the town’s mayor, Miles Atkins.

“All of the employees, drivers, mechanics, everybody really involved in the industry mostly lives in this area. It’s just become the hub,” Mr. Earnhardt said. “It’s just a coincidence that I was born and raised here but I suppose that if Nascar was located in another part of the country that’s where I’d be.”

Josh Tucker, an agent with Corcoran HM Properties in Mooresville, said there’s significant overlap in the Lake Norman area between Nascar and real-estate industries. He started his career as a mechanic for Nascar vehicles and eventually became what’s known as a “car chief,” making sure vehicles meet the criteria of Nascar inspections, before making the switch to real estate. He said he can’t remember a time when the area wasn’t a hub for Nascar greats.

“It seems like a lot of people I either represent on the buy side or the sell side end up having some connection down the line to Nascar,” he said.

Around Lake Norman, a flurry of recent big-ticket deals have been linked to the Nascar community in some way.

In June, a Cornelius estate that was owned by driver Joey Logano, two-time Nascar Cup Series champion who won at Daytona in 2015, sold for $4.3 million, a profit over the $3.6 million Mr. Logano paid in 2014, records show. The roughly 1-acre property sits directly on the lake and includes an Old World-style estate with cathedral arches, a beach, a dock, a billiards room and a four-car garage, according to the listing. Mr. Logano didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In September 2020, Rick Hendrick, the owner of the Nascar team Hendrick Motorsports, purchased a $6.3 million house on the lake in Denver, according to property and corporation records. The roughly 2.5-acre estate, located in a gated community, includes a four-car garage and a grand English manor-style home with a slate roof, glass lanterns and five bedrooms, the listing shows. It also has a pier with a helicopter pad.

It’s not just drivers and team owners driving prices up in the area. Agents say Nascar dollars spill over into other industries, like the news media that covers the sport, manufacturing, maintenance and marketing. “If you buy a lunchbox at Walmart with Jeff Gordon’s face on it, someone was involved in marketing that,” said local agent Ben Bowen, referencing one of the sport’s most well-known drivers.

Lake Norman has more to offer than just its Nascar associations, Mr. Tucker said, touting the area’s warm summers and mild winters, its big sprawling estates and the recreational possibilities of the lake. Lake Norman, created in the 1950s and 1960s as part of the construction of the Cowans Ford Dam, is one of the largest manmade lakes in the country and is a haven for boating, watersports and fishing. Alleged sightings of Normie, North Carolina’s equivalent of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, form local legend.

Much of the luxury real estate is on the east side of the lake, in the towns of Mooresville and Cornelius, which are more accessible to the airport and to the cities of Charlotte and Concord, where the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Nascar race shops, many of the Nascar teams, and the Nascar Hall of Fame are located.

On the west side of Lake Norman, in high-end communities like Denver, some of the wealthiest residents commute to Concord and Charlotte by helicopter, said Mr. Jackson, the agent.

The hottest areas are near two country clubs, the Peninsula Club in Cornelius and the Trump National Golf Club in Mooresville, agents said. While many buyers don’t want to live within the country club’s housing communities, the streets around them are considered the most desirable. Jetton Road, or what’s known locally as the “Jetton Peninsula,” which weaves past the Peninsula Club toward the Safe Harbor Peninsula Yacht Club, is home to some of the most elaborate properties. Similarly, in Mooresville, the “Brawley Peninsula,” Brawley School Road, goes past the Trump National Golf club out to the edge of the lake.

Starting in the late 1990s and through the mid- to late-2000s, the area played host to an arms race of new mansion development, Mr. Tucker said. That coincided with the peak of Nascar’s popularity and a wave of sponsorship dollars flowing into the sport. A large number of high-end homes were built on the edge of the lake, he said.

When it came to the drivers, many wanted significant garage space and lakefront docks.

“Just like they love fast cars, they also love fast boats,” said Mr. Tucker of his Nascar driver clients, noting that many drivers want their own docks with boat lifts.

Duke Energy, the company that operates the dam and a local power plant, regulates what can be built on the lake and requires a permitting process for new docks, however. A spokesman for the company said that, as development on the lake continues, it’s become more challenging to find property that’s appropriate for the construction of new deep-water docks.

“If a home already has a dock that’s grandfathered in, you likely wouldn’t be able to replicate that dock today,” Mr. Tucker said. “So a lot of buyers are looking for these older homes that have bigger docks that stick out further into the water.”

For some, restrictions around the lake are so tight that they would rather have a more rural property a little farther away from the water, Mr. Jackson said. “It’s not uncommon for them to buy more rural properties in farm areas around Lake Norman, and put up a separate automotive garage,” Mr. Jackson said.

The wave of new mansion development slowed down thanks in large part to the 2008 financial crisis, Mr. Tucker said, but saw an uptick again during Covid, as homebuyers looked for more space and greater access to amenities and the lake.

“When Covid hit, the McMansions became popular again,” he said. “People said, ‘Oh my gosh, we need more space, have a home theatre and home offices and fitness room and all these things.’ ”

The Covid crisis also brought many buyers to the area from Charlotte, a large number of whom worked in the financial-services industry at companies like Bank of America, which has its headquarters in North Carolina, said Mr. Tucker. He said this further drove up prices. In more recent months, Mr. Bowen said, agents have started to see more hesitation from buyers in the face of inflation, rising interest rates and recession fears.

Meanwhile, while Nascar has helped make the Lake Norman community what it is, some wonder if its influence will last forever. The declining popularity of the sport, as evidenced by lower viewership figures, means that some of the newer drivers aren’t making close to what the established drivers make. In the mid-2010s, the sport was a cultural phenomenon, inspiring the car-racing comedy movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” starring Will Ferrell. But only about 4.83 million people tuned into the Daytona 500 in 2021, compared with 16.65 million in 2013, a decrease of more than 70%, according to Sports Media Watch, a sports media publication.

According to Mr. Atkins, Mooresville’s mayor, one reason for the dip was because Nascar “got so big so fast,” and in the midst of corporate sponsorships, it lost touch with its base. But lately, he continued, there has been a renewed interest in driver personalities and rivalries, which were closely followed by the media when the organisation’s popularity hit its peak. When it comes to foot traffic, Mr. Kelley said that the Nascar Hall of Fame is bringing in more attendees now than before the pandemic, with attendance around 30% higher during the fiscal year of 2022 compared with 2019.

As for real estate, at least one agent said they don’t see the dip in viewership as an immediate threat to the real-estate market. “They’re still making enough money to buy very nice houses,” Mr. Tucker said.

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Equities are often seen as expensive after promising start to 2023

By CAITLIN MCCABE
Mon, Jan 30, 2023 7 min

A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe

 

Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer

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