Tip Your Hat to Increase
"Everything just came together at the same time," says Michelle Clark of Intracoastal Realty, summing up what so many brokers said of the three-county real estate market in 2019. "People were ready to buy and people were ready to sell."
It was Pender County -- badly battered in 2018 by a devastating hurricane -- that saw its real estate market shine the brightest in 2019 in the tri-county coastal area.
Pender posted the best sold volume gain among New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties, plus the increase in the number of actual sales, coming back 15.7 percent in sold volume and 7 percent in number of sales over the previous year.
With $1.9 billion in transactions, New Hanover experienced a 12.4 percent volume gain, with 5 percent more property sold, while Brunswick had an 8.6 percent gain in sold volume and a not quite 4 percent increase in the number of sales over 2018.
Sales began slowly because the county was still in recovery from 2018's Hurricane Florence.
"But we ended with a bang," Coldwell Banker Seacoast Advantage's Christine Cronick says. "We saw a downturn in the market because of the hurricane but not as drastically as north of us. And because a lot of people were displaced, they had to buy."
Everywhere there was good news.
"We finally saw the complete recovery in the upper end that just took forever to come back from the brutal recession of 2008-2011," Intracoastal Realty's Vance Young says. "The luxury market had its first real recovery year in the $1 million and above properties. That whole market was much, much healthier. ... We just had tremendous volume from across the board."
The number one residential sale in the tri-counties was a Wrightsville Beach oceanfront, year-round home, which sold in less than 5 months. The three-story, extreme South End home at 915 S. Lumina Avenue closed for $5 million on July 31.
The sale did not best that of the previous year, but Realtors closed out the year with four additional New Hanover County sales over $4 million, topping the previous year by two.
The top residential sale in both Pender and Brunswick was $2.25 million. Overall sold prices climbed higher and were more plentiful in all three counties.
"People are retiring to the South because of our taxes. They are so much lower than up North. Even with our wind and hail insurance and taxes, it's still a win-win for them," says Christine Cronick.
"North Carolina is attracting interest from across the nation. Wilmington is strong as a region," says Hardee Hunt & Williams' Randall Williams.
Buyers with significant net worth are coming to the area.
"They are those who could go anywhere in the country or the world for that matter," says Vance Young.
He indicated a lot of these buyers are paying cash. Some of this he attributes to the wealth that has been created and enhanced by the economy.
"You have to tip your hat to the economy and where we are," he says.
He describes it as "the wealth effect" that people feel, producing confidence in making significant investments. Young also noted use of cash by a generation that became debt adverse as a result of banks calling in loans in 2008 from people who were not even behind on their mortgages.
Realtors say the demand is not slackening or the supply increasing.
"The demand has been crazy. That is the thing that has everybody talking. How are we going to get more inventory?" Intracoastal Realty's Carla Lewis says.
That's the challenge for Realtors and for the buyer as the consumer.
"The supply, the inventory was contracting throughout 2019, whether you look at the beach, Landfall, Figure Eight," says Vance Young.
Realtors saw same-day sales, one-day sales, less-than-a-week sales, and no-days-on-market sales and multiple offers.
Lewis says she is calling agents asking, "Hey, do you know anyone who is going to be selling, can you just call your clients and see if they are going to sell anytime soon?"
And her phone is ringing too.
"I am getting calls all the time from other agents with clients waiting, asking, 'What do you have coming on the Lollipop, what do you have coming on Waynick, on the South End?'" she says.
The top lot/land sale in all three counties was the $4.5 million purchase of four acres on Wrightsville Sound, at the corner of Summer Rest and Blue roads, the former Britthaven assisted living facility that closed in the spring of 2015.
The parcel has been subdivided into buildable waterfront with boat slip on the east side of Summer Rest, with three additional lots on the west. Listing broker Marcello Caliva, of Intracoastal Realty says one reason for the popularity of the neighborhood is the district accommodates pools and guest houses.
Downtown Wilmington, alive with new construction, new growth, and a desirable riverfront boardwalk, has become an attractive destination.
"Downtown is just coming alive, and has been for the last several years. There is a lot of new activity," says Michelle Clark. "There are a lot of new properties, new construction, new hotels, new condos, the city is doing a facelift on some areas. There's great walkability, a lot of great restaurants and shops. It's a completely different life than the beach, but it just has so much to offer people of all ages."
Downtown Wilmington saw 122 sales with a closed volume of $24.7 million. Ninety-five were single family, racking up more than $17 million in sold prices ranging from $435,000 to $36,500, a cash sale of 715 S. Seventh Street in need of renovation. Ten were multifamily, duplex or triplex selling for $3.7 million combined. Eight sales were residential land, while two were land for mixed use. Selling for a combined $3.3 million, six were commercial property.
"In 2019, you could get a brand new, high-rise riverfront condo for $600,000," Carla Lewis says.
The top single-family residential sale in downtown Wilmington was 206 Ann Street, in the historic district between Third Street and the Cape Fear River, built in 1903. It sold with multiple offers in October for $435,000, after just three days on the market, 100 percent of the list price.
"We have a captive audience downtown," says Sam Simmons of Port City Properties, listing broker for the Ann Street property. "We have a lot of lookers and not much inventory of single family, free-standing homes. Homes without a HOA are appealing."
Proximity to Wilmington was a factor for buyers looking in Brunswick, Pender and Onslow counties, as were the beaches and services. And it is not just year-round residents seeking properties with these services.
"The proximity to Wilmington is huge to anyone looking to buy a second home," says Nick Phillips of Landmark Sotheby's. "It's everything, being able to access major medical, the airport and world-class dining."
Pender County experienced 1,732 sales, totaling more than $465 million, an increase of 15.7 percent.
"The market has recovered after Hurricane Florence," Frank Sherron of Landmark Sotheby's says.
Pender was hard hit by the storm. Sherron describes it as "normalized."
Much of the county's 597,000 acres is rural, but its coastal corridor is experiencing the most growth.
"The Pender County market, specifically the coastal corridor, is truly flourishing at this point," says Eric Sabourin of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage. "It is becoming that north Wilmington extension. It's got great schools, great water access, very close to the beaches. You see the forethought of the Hampstead bypass and all those things starting to come to fruition."
With its proximity to Jacksonville and Wilmington, families from Wilmington are moving in to take advantage of the bigger lots and water views.
"It's become a great community that's starting to enjoy that same coastal lifestyle that we have here in New Hanover County," Sabourin says.
The number one sale in Pender County was at 430 N. Anderson Blvd., Surf City, Topsail Beach. This 5-bedroom and 5-bath home, built in 2005 on a 100x50x487-foot lot, sold for $2.5 million, 104.3 percent of list price.
Topsail Island's new 65-foot-high, $53 million bridge was completed at the end of 2018.
"Topsail Beach is starting to explode, too. Once that bridge was built, there's just easier access in and out of Topsail," says Carla Lewis.
She says those coming from the West Coast find the island very attractive.
"Topsail Beach is the sweet beach town," she says.
East Coast ocean and sound waters are attractively warmer, too.
The top land sale in Pender County was 429 Bay Retreat in Hampstead, which sold for $2,093,584. The high bluff, waterfront estate out of the flood zone on Virginia Creek had been in the same family for 40 years, the front half farmed since the 1980s.
"It was time for the family to sell," says Eric Sabourin, the listing and selling agent.
It was purchased and developed into a 48-lot neighborhood called Camden, with over 40 single-family homes and six waterfront lots.
Brunswick County, with 672,000 acres and sprawling residential developments, saw an increase of 8.6 percent to $1.57 billion in 6,552 sales.
"Brunswick County is one of the fastest growing counties right now," Carla Lewis says. "So many coming love those 'immediate communities' with all the amenities, like Brunswick Forest and Compass Pointe. They instantly put people into a community where they can meet others and feel a part of it; the golf, kayaking, the pickleball."
Four of the top 10 sales in Brunswick County for 2019 were developable land. Because the storm made landfall above the Brunswick beaches, Realtors say they fared well.
The top residential sale in the county was again on water-access-only Bald Head Island. This 4-bedroom, 4-bath, 3000sf home overlooking the marina at 102 Turks Head Court sold for $2.2 million, 96 percent of list price.
"The beach towns see buyers from cities where you can drive to the beach for a short weekend; Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro," says Christine Cronick.
Bald Head Island saw $64,322,500 in 134 closed sales, with 19 pending sales at year's end.
The average sales price in the island village was $480,000, while the median was $470,000. At the height of the year, there were 194 properties on the market, and those sold took an average of 248 days to sell. The highest active list price was above $3.7 million.
"A lot of the beach communities are fueled by property owners who can drive down for the weekend. If you are three to four hours away, on Friday morning you say, let's go to the beach," Christine Cronick says.
The top Ocean Isle sale was the 5-bedroom, 5-bath, 4,101sf oceanfront rental house at 139 Ocean Isle West Blvd., which generates a reported $100,000 annually. It sold for $1.9 million, 100 percent of list price.
It had been 14 years since the recession wiped out 68 percent of the town's previous year's sales volume. Homeowners who weathered the 2005-06 economic storm and held on saw an impressive 36 percent increase in sales with a 42 percent higher top sales price on Wrightsville.
Out of 159 total sales, totaling $157.5 million, 147 were residential properties with a sold volume of more than $147 million.
"There are myriad reasons to purchase beach property," says Randall Williams in his 37th year at Wrightsville. "I've seen a full spectrum of motivating factors that entice folks to invest in this place. The traditional second home buyer, the rental investor, the 1031 tax exchanger, the spec builder, the flipper, the retirement home buyer, the primary residence purchaser, the move up buyer, the fine homes collector. The list goes on. Occasionally a real estate market becomes invigorated by all of these factors. That is what I believe happened in 2019."
Residents contributed to the higher volume and prices; neighbors moving up or buying additional properties was prevalent at Wrightsville. Current property owners were making a move to a more desirable property or doubling down, buying additional properties.
"It was a hot market from January to December," Williams says. "This market has been fueled by more solid fundamentals than the last hot run, which was largely propelled by speculation and risky exuberance."
Of the top sale in the three counties, the oceanfront home at 915 S. Lumina Avenue (see page 46), listing broker Vance Young says no expense was spared when the custom-built home was constructed in 2014. Besides the craftmanship, it provided the year-round residents incredible views in all directions: ocean, sound, inlet and island with both Wrightsville sunrises and stunning sunsets over water. The downsizing sellers purchased on the creek in Landfall.
The 5570sf home with four or five bedrooms and 5-and-one-half baths had replaced a 1960s cottage on the 75x175-foot lot.
"The buyers were looking for an exceptional property located in Pender or New Hanover County, close to the Wilmington metro area," buyer broker Brett Knowles of Coldwell Banker Seacoast Advantage says.
The $5 million purchase price was 95 percent of its list price. The in-state buyers, from the Raleigh area, own and have owned other North Carolina beachfront properties.
Three waterfront Wrightsville homes, two oceanfront and one soundfront, sold from just over $4 million to $5 million.
"Wrightsville proved itself," Marcello Caliva says. "People want to be near services."
The number three sale at Wrightsville, and the number five sale in New Hanover County, was a high-grossing vacation rental at 213 S Lumina Avenue. The 8-bedroom, 9-bath, 5511sf oceanfront home with a heated and chilled oceanfront saltwater pool and in-ground sauna located next to St. Therese church sold for $4.085 million, 93 percent of the list price.
"The rents have just gone sky high. It helps to justify a purchase to someone looking for a summer home," says Caliva, the listing agent.
At $2.75 million, the top sale on Harbor Island tied a Landfall home for the number 17 sale in New Hanover County. Selling for 95 percent of its list price, 602 N. Channel Drive is waterfront on Banks Channel between the fixed bridges on a quaint dead-end street near the elementary school. Built in 2016, this 4-bedroom, 4-bath home is eco-friendly with on-demand hot water heater and solar panels.
Year-round ownership is up in pockets like the Parmele area on the peninsula opposite the Holiday Inn Resort. With eight new sales in the neighborhood in 2019, Parmele is emerging as a residential enclave much like Harbor Island did decades ago.
Wrightsville had nine lot sales, totaling $9 million. Seven were on Harbor Island, and two on Wrightsville. Three lot sales were $1.6 million or more. They ranged from a high of $1.628 million for a 70x300-foot waterfront lot on 216 Seacrest Drive and $1.6 million between the bridges at 108 N. Channel Drive, to $565,000 for non-waterfront broken water views at 22 Live Oak Drive. Four of these were cash sales.
New construction at Wrightsville is fueled by the teardown: clearing away of an existing property to build something much grander. Residents like Walt Laughlin bemoan the loss of historic homes including 2 West Charlotte St., just torn down.
"Wrightsville Beach's most exciting history may have been in the early 20thcentury when it was booming with big bands, trolleys, fancy hotels, romance, and big dreams," he says."Those who experienced it are all gone now, and their homes are all gone too, with the exception of perhaps only one.A new crop of houses -- built in the early 1950s during the post-World War II optimism -- are now meeting the wrecking ball at an alarming rate, replaced by more modern and bigger houses."
The town of Wrightsville Beach approved 28 new construction building permit applications for 2019, greater than a 7 percent increase over 2018. Six of these were between $1 million and $1.85 million. Nineteen were for single family homes, and nine were to construct new duplex units.
Construction of 14 over/under duplex condos had been approved in the previous year for a new planned community, Atlantic View, between East Salisbury and Seagull streets, the site of the former Seascape Motel adjacent to Johnnie Mercers Pier. Twenty-one new residential units in all were constructed, 18 are ocean view, three oceanfront, and one is a commercial condo that houses Access 16, a beachwear clothing and accessory shop.
Eighteen of the new duplex condos closed in 2019, with a top price of $1.35 million.
"There was nothing really like it on the beach, the community that Atlantic View is," says one of the listing brokers, Max Smith of Cadence Realty.
The 1950s commercial real estate building at 84 Waynick Blvd. sold for $815,000. The tenants remained. The seller and buyer were local.
Buyers on Pleasure Island were finding beach and beachfront value at prices that were lower than Wrightsville Beach.
"They can get a beachfront home for $1.5 million," says Carla Lewis. "On Wrightsville, you can't do that. We still have so many people coming from other states, that price point is very appealing to them ... It allows them to have perfect luxury on the beach."
Pleasure Island, encompassing Carolina Beach and Kure Beach as well as Fort Fisher, saw its top sale go under contract in just three days.
"The Carolina, Kure Beach area is really hot," Lewis says. "They had an incredible increase in sales last year."
This top island-wide sale, a 5-bedroom, 9-bath, oceanfront home at 502 N. Fort Fisher Blvd. in Kure Beach, sold for $2 million. The buyers were from a family group already owning a vacation home nearby, says selling agent Melissa Newman of Nest Realty.
Oceanfront and ocean view homes were selling, Fort Fisher Boulevard saw 11 additional sales in the top 25 Pleasure Island residential sales for 2019.
Darlings by the Sea, an oceanfront inn and business at 329 Atlantic Avenue in Kure Beach, sold furnished for $1.2 million, 69 percent of list price.
The top sale in Carolina Beach, and number eight on the island, was a non-waterfront 5-bedroom, 5-bath property. The main house with a guest house and heated saltwater pool at 901 and 903 North Carolina Ave. sold for $1.134 million, closing on Nov. 20 for 91 percent of list price.
The Vermont buyer "walked through the house digitally and came down the next week and made an offer," says Cadence Realty's Luke Waddell, the listing agent.
The number two sale on Carolina Beach was 4-bedroom, 4-bath canal-front with three boat slips at 1217 Canal Drive, selling for $990,000, 98 percent of list price.
Landfall saw an 8.9 percent growth in 2019, ending the year with $96 million in closed sales. In a market with an ever-shrinking supply, 136 homes sold.
"People's sense of confidence is very high now," says Allison Bernhardt of Landfall Realty.
The average price rose to $706,000; the median to $612,500.
"Landfall had a very good year, the inventory is as low as I can remember," Vance Young says.
Inventory was down 24 percent.
"We have only 3 percent of the 1,800 homes at Landfall on the market. The national average is like 8 percent," Bernhardt says.
The top sale in Landfall tied with a Harbor Island waterfront sale for number 17 in New Hanover County. This was 1205 Great Oaks Drive, an Intracoastal Waterway, waterfront, 4,912sf spec house, with all the living on one level. It sold for $2.75 million ($559.85 per square foot), 95 percent of the list price.
The buyers were from the Raleigh area, already with a home on South Lumina Avenue. They were still working but thinking about their future.
"The sentiment among buyers is that now is a great time to buy real estate," Nick Phillips says.
There were just 18 sales of lots in 2019 in the gated golf and country club community. They ranged from $90,000 on Bedminister Lane to $700,000 on Pelican Reach Place.
Landmark Sotheby's Will Musselwhite represented the seller for 15 Balmoral Place. The lot, which backs up to Howe Creek, sold for $300,000.
"There are a lot more husband and wife buyers who do not need a 5000-6000sf house. What I call the sweet spot in Landfall is the midrange, prices between $600,000 and $800,000," Musselwhite says.
Figure Eight Island
The niche market of Figure Eight Island, where some houses span two and three lots, has just 497 developed lots. Inventory is usually low. In any year there are going to only be a handful of sales. Just 20 properties were sold in 2019, down 13 percent from the previous year's total of 23.
"In our market, inventory is down, therefore transactions are down. Because what people are looking for is not on the market or obtainable at the moment," says Kirra Sutton of Figure Eight Island Realty. "So, matchmaking is really a big part of it. Sometimes the clientele you are working with have the ability to do X, Y and Z. They are going to wait for that special something, the thing that's the perfect fit. These buyers are not in the market to make drastic compromises, typically. It's really important that you find the right match. In different territories, you have a far wider spread of price ranges and a larger supply of inventory to be able to make that connection."
There were properties that were turnkey -- fully renovated, sold furnished -- that were gone in 30 to 50 days, whereas some properties were on the market for extended periods of time.
"We had a lot of properties that finally moved, that had been on the market in excess of 250 days," Sutton says.
At $4.8 million, the number one sale on Figure Eight Island was the number three sale in New Hanover County. Built in 2000, 49 Pipers Neck is four residential pavilions connected by breezeways and decks located soundfront, on a 1.2-acre, surrounded on three sides by water. The house designed by noted mid-century modernist architect Ligon B. Flynn is an architectural masterpiece. Flynn believed,"The single most precious thing to have is a breeze. It's free. I wanted there to always be a breeze."
"It is an amazing design by Flynn," listing agent Nick Phillips says. "I believe he wanted to create a house that was truly worthy of this extraordinary lot."
The home, with a private pier and boat lift, sold for $4.8 million, 92 percent of its list price. It was sold the day it came on the market, a trend seen areawide.
"That was the highest price anyone has paid on Figure Eight since that house sold last for $5.2 million in 2005," Phillips says.
The seller was in Texas and not using the house often. The buyers had been looking for three to four years, buyer agent Buzzy Northen of Intracoastal Realty says. The buyers are a young couple who will use the home for vacations.
"Each year of my six to seven years I have been doing this, my buyers have gotten younger," says Northen.
Coming into the market were those relocating to make Wilmington their primary residence, to work remotely from home, including younger buyers.
This submarket was not exclusive to Figure Eight.
"Meeting the demographic profile of a younger buyer has particularly been a challenge," Jessica Edwards of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty says. "Free time is important to all of us, but particularly to the younger buyer, and they don't want to spend it on renovations.The younger buyer doesn't want a second-generation home that needs a complete home remodel. They want a modern, turnkey home, that they can quickly move into. This applies to the affluent, as well as the first-time home buyer."
Selling for $4,687,500, the number two sale at Figure Eight was a house built in 2016 in the middle of the island at 4 Beach Road S. The professionally decorated home with ocean-to-sound views and high-end finishes and appliances sold for not quite 95 percent of the asking price.
The seller is moving down the street to build a smaller home with the same builder, says Northen, the listing broker.
A private sale of a waterfront home on the island by a Wrightsville Beach family was made Dec. 1 to a buyer whose family already owned on Figure Eight. This non-Realtor, non-commissioned sale would have been a record-breaking comparable, reportedly selling in the $6.2 million range.