Economy, eager buyers drive high-end home sales

Realtors say the red hot stock market is driving high-end home sales, but the heat is also being stoked by something far more fundamental. There are simply more high-end homes for sale.

Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix and Nashville have at least two times more homes for sale in the top tier than the bottom tier, according to a new report from Zillow. And they are selling.

"Depending on their finances, it's likely that individual buyers in the same market might be having completely different home buying experiences," said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow. "Even as conditions improve for buyers overall, it remains a tough row to hoe for first-time buyers and lower-income buyers, especially compared to their more well-off contemporaries."

Zillow looked at over 350 local metropolitan markets and found that the number of for-sale listings rose in 68 percent of the bottom price-tier of these markets compared to a year ago. In the top tier, however, listings rose in over 82 percent of the markets. Nationwide, inventory is up about 16 percent in all tiers from a year ago.

"This property was asking a little over five million," said Nancy Taylor-Bubes, a real estate agent with Washington Fine Properties, as she showed a grand, historic five-bedroom, five bathroom, brick Colonial-style home in Washington D.C.'s upscale Kalorama neighborhood. "We put it on in the spring time, had a little activity, but we didn't sell it. Here we are in late fall, and we had three offers on the property, and it sold very close to its asking price."

Some of the surge may be seasonal, as higher end buyers tend to shop in the spring and buy in the fall, according to Taylor-Bubes, but this fall is stronger than usual.

Read More$1 million-plus home sales up 16%

"Georgetown is on fire right now and rising. When you get out into the hinterlands, that's taking more hits," said W. Whit Kidwell, a D.C. area appraiser who deals mostly in multi-million dollar listings.


A five-bedroom, five bathroom, brick Colonial-style home in Washington D.C.'s upscale Kalorama neighborhood that sold for nearly $5 million.
Diana Olick | CNBC
A five-bedroom, five bathroom, brick Colonial-style home in Washington D.C.'s upscale Kalorama neighborhood that sold for nearly $5 million.

Low mortgage rates are helping as well, but for high-end buyers who pays cash first and finances later, they take advantage of those lower rates after closing.

"A number of my clients are private banking clients. They will write an all cash contract and then seek financing. I'll do a number of refinances right after closing," added Kidwell.

Read MoreExisting home sales hit one-year high in October


Sales of existing homes rose 2.5 percent in October from a year ago, according to a report this week from the National Association of Realtors. Sales of homes priced above $1 million, however, soared 16 percent.

"With the market up, rates are down, buyers just think 'Gee, could it be more next year? I should make this decision now!" said Taylor-Bubes.

She just sold another property this week listed around $4 million. It had two offers.