By Jane Duckwall
A wave of new residential developments in North Carolina’s coastal counties offers proof that the tide has turned after the collapse of the real-estate market in 2007. Among the larger projects is the long-dormant Beaufort East Village, a 283-acre, 791-unit community in Beaufort proposed by Cary-based Preston Development Co. The Carteret County town approved the project in 2008, but it was sidelined as sliding property values caused about 383,000 foreclosures in North Carolina between 2007 and 2013.
In January, Preston Development President Karl Blackley said he hoped to sign a contract with a builder for the community within three months. The development is split into Beaufort East, with town homes and single-family homes starting around $200,000, and Beau Coast, with homes selling for as much as $750,000 and aimed mostly at second-home retirees, he says.
Two hours south of Beaufort, UNC Wilmington finance professor Edward Graham has watched a similar story play out in RiverLights, a 1,400-acre community along the Cape Fear River in Wilmington. The developer, San Diego-based Newland Real Estate Group LLC, has plans for more than 2,500 town homes and single-family homes, with prices starting in the $200s. Wilmington rerouted River Road, a major thoroughfare, to make way for RiverLights.
Home sales in the Wilmington area jumped 13% last year to 7,404, according to Don Harris, president of the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors. That was a 70% increase from 2009. Average sales prices in 2015 gained nearly 5% to $251,000 from a year earlier, he says. “The bottom line is home sales are robust in southeastern North Carolina.”
Other large coastal region projects include the 1,700-unit Camden Plantation in South Mills, a Camden County town about 20 miles north of Elizabeth City. It’s a huge project for a county with a population of 10,000, says Dave Parks, Camden’s permit officer. While the master plan for the site was approved before the market crashed, the developer is just now planning streets and utilities.
In nearby Currituck County, the town of Moyock has 942 lots planned or in development, Planning Director Ben Woody says. Military retirees are moving into the town, which has about 3,800 residents and is about 10 miles inland. Currituck and Dare counties do not have any large coastal developments underway because most Outer Banks property has already been platted or is owned by the government, local officials say.
“Aging boomers, empty nesters, etc., are driving much of the demand” for large, new housing developments, UNCW’s Graham says. Market conditions have also helped spark buyers, according to Preston’s Blackley. “People now have confidence,” he says. “Literally, confidence.”