New Normal In Unprecedented Times

Fewer transactions but no softness of home prices due to scarcity of inventory

BY Pat Bradford, Fritts Causby, Amanda Lisk and Christine R. Gonzalez

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In nearly every real estate market across the nation in 2023, headlines and anecdotal evidence mentioning the lack of available inventory were commonplace. Similar to the rest of the country, with notable exceptions, the concept of golden handcuffs — mortgage holders with favorable interest rates unwilling to sell or buy — applied to the tri-county real estate market in 2023.

Two years removed from the 2021 boom, the quantity of sales and the number of properties (called units) to sell slowed in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, while values mostly stayed high, and the luxury market continued its upward spiral.

New Hanover County experienced just under a 13 percent drop in the volume of units sold in 2023. This was not quite a 20 percent drop in the quantity of units sold. The top sold price went up by 30 percent. The average median sales price was up 8.57 percent, while average days on market — the number of days it took to sell a property — increased 36 percent to 38 days.

“The high-end waterfront markets of Figure Eight Island, Wrightsville Beach and Landfall continued to see record-breaking sales in spite of both slowing inventory and buyer demand,” says Vance Young, broker with Intracoastal Realty Corp.

Figure Eight Island, which saw two of the three record-breaking high sales in the tri-counties, the decrease in the overall sold volume (to $25.5 million) was significant as was the number of units sold (two), a decrease of 42 percent and 71 percent respectively. However, there was a 42 percent increase in the average sold price per square foot and the median sale price increased 132 percent. The days on market dropped by 76 percent there, to a mere four days.

Pleasure Island, encompassing Carolina and Kure beaches, saw the next largest drop in overall sold volume, 25 percent, as well as a drop of 29 percent in the number of units sold. The good news for Realtors and sellers; the medium sold price in New Hanover County was up 5.45 percent to $580,000.

Landfall saw a 14 percent drop in overall sold volume, and 24 percent fewer properties were sold. This offset an increase in the Landfall average and median sales prices to $1,215,930 and $1,105,000 respectively. The days on market stayed the same at 42. 

Wrightsville Beach was the only town or community within the tri-county area without a decrease in overall sold volume, with a modest 1 percent gain in the dollar volume of sales. However, there was a 17 percent decrease in the number of units sold. Wrightsville was the only other community to see a serious reduction in the average days on market, which were down by 82 days, a 59 percent decrease.

Brunswick County saw a 3.17 percent drop in overall sold volume, the lowest of the three counties.  The tri-county’s smallest decrease in the number of properties sold was in Brunswick with an 8 percent drop. The good news was a 42 percent increase in the top-selling property and gains in average and median sales prices.

Pender County saw an 11 percent decline in overall sold volume and a 12 percent decline in the number of units sold.

Once again inventory was a huge factor in all price points, but high interest rates were credited for creating a very tough market outside of the luxury segment.

Of the top 20 sales in 2023, 65 percent were cash sales.  

For those purchasing with mortgage loans, the term golden handcuffs was used in expressing existing home owners’ frustration with interest rates. The analogy is the golden interest rates of 2 percent to 5 percent hold buyers and sellers back from moving or selling their homes.

Many potential sellers with mortgages were unwilling to put their house on the market to trade their current low interest rate to the mortgage rates of 2023, which averaged around 7 percent.

“Sellers are looking at a 3 and one half percent loan and they are not ready to list,”  Carla Lewis, broker at Intracoastal Realty corp. says.

The average rate on a 30-year loan in 2022 was in the 3 to 4 percent range; prior years were even lower.

With interest rates climbing, affordability became increasingly an issue for potential home buyers, creating pent-up demand with sellers and buyers waiting for the rates to come down before entering the market.

“If you were thinking of selling,” broker Michelle Clark of Intracoastal Realty Corp. says. “I would tell you it’s not the frenzy we were seeing at the end of 2020 — all the way into early 2023 before the rate shot up. It’s still a sellers-market — if it’s priced right, it will sell in a reasonable amount of time.”

The number of new listings continued to decrease even in the luxury segment of the market, although the luxury price point was far better insulated from interest rate fluctuations than other market segments.

“There’s a market that is less concerned with interest rates, and that is the luxury market. I don’t believe what is holding the inventory back in the luxury market is necessarily interest-rate driven at all,” says Nick Phillips, founder and broker at Landmark Sotheby’s International Realty.

The demand for the very high-end properties has not abated even though the inventory continues to shrink, driving the values higher. 

“The years change but the one thing that stays the same is the demand for luxury properties in the Wilmington area continues to increase every year. This is reflected in the higher sales values that we are seeing,” Phillips says.

Top Home Sales in New Hanover County

New Hanover County saw six residential sales between $10 million and $13 million in 2023.

The top residential sale in the tri-county area for the previous year was a then record-breaking $10 million, followed by a $9.5 million sale, both at Figure Eight Island. Two years ago the top sale there was $6.75 million at 258 Beach Road North.

Beachside Elegance
Selling by Realtors outside the MLS system was a significant sale of $10 million at Figure Eight Island in July. This equaled the selling price of the record-breaking top sale in New Hanover County the previous year. With 6,852sf including both a main house and guest house, 520 Beach Road North offered 4 bedrooms plus a bunk room and an office. The home was built in 2011 by King Post Design & Construction with the addition in 2019. Nick Phillips represented both buyer and seller. Courtesy Nick Phillips Landmark

In 2020 there were 32 sales on the island. There were 20 sales in 2021 and seven in 2022. Of those seven, five sold over the $5 million mark. 

This past year there were just two sales on Figure Eight Island through the Realtors’ Multiple Listing System (MLS). However, there was at least one other 2023 high-dollar sale that did not go through the MLS.

“There were also five other houses that did not sell in 2023; those were taken off the market,” broker Buzzy Northen of Intracoastal Realty Corp. says. 

An oceanfront lot listed during the year for $5.3 million at 88 Beach Road South, a little over half an acre, has not yet sold. 

“It has David Lisle house plans included in the purchase price, already approved by the Figure Eight HOA and permitted,” says listing broker Jo El Skipper of Figure Eight Realty.

The two record sales were unique, modern, spectacular oceanfront homes.

“The modern is not everyone’s taste or style, but this past couple of years, that was the key to sales on Figure Eight, especially this year. It lends itself to the oceanfront; all the outside is coming in from all the windows,” Jo El Skipper says.

Figure Eight Island is a private five-mile, 1,300-acre barrier island in New Hanover County with approximately 475 privately owned, single-family homes.

Again in 2023 it was home to the top MLS sale in the tri-county area with a selling price of $13 million at 10 Inlet Hook Road. This was a modern, 3,844sf  oceanfront house with elevated pool, designed by David Lisle and built by North State Custom Builders in 2022. It featured beautiful interiors with a vast amount of glass in floor-to-ceiling windows. It sold on August 16 after just seven days on market. The selling price to list price ratio was 101.56 percent. The home sold turnkey furnished with artwork.

“It came on the market at the right time for the right person,” says listing agent Jo El Skipper.

The buyers came from Greenwich, Connecticut.

“The seller’s wife, Dr. Rebekah McConnell, did all the interiors and outdoor living spaces of that house, and it is a pretty remarkable house. Impeccable selections. It was really a labor of love,” says Skipper.

The second-highest MLS sale in New Hanover County was oceanfront, 110 Beach Road South, also at Figure Eight Island. This 5,522sf  home designed by architect David Lisle in four stories sold for $12.5 million on September 1. Days on market were 2.

“The unique fact that a house of this caliber, of the highest quality, architecturally significant, move-in ready was available, was unprecedented,” says broker and licensed home designer and builder Mark Batson with Landmark Sotheby’s International Realty.

The buyer was a Charlotte family.

“What the buyer was paying for was time. The 3 to 4 years it takes to find a lot and develop a property like this, that was what the value was. You can’t buy time,” Batson says. “It all boils down to family time, the house is a place for that to occur.”

Built in 2017, it features 360-degree water views from 5-bedrooms with 7-baths. The house was oriented to maximize light, breeze and views. The design team had conducted a sun study for summer and winter and a prevailing wind study.

The top floor boasts a rooftop deck for a gym and office space. Overlooking the beach and ocean is a saltwater pool. 

Across the Intracoastal Waterway on the mainland looking east, 8516 Bald Eagle Lane was the No. 3 highest sale in New Hanover County by a Realtor, selling for $10.7 million. This Porters Neck Plantation, 9,136sf  home was built in 2018. It featured 6 bedrooms with 6 full baths and 3 half baths. It sold for 100 percent of the list price.

The highest dollar residential sale in New Hanover County of $17.5 million was not an MLS listing. It was a property known as Queens Point in Ogden off Middle Sound Loop Road, a significant waterfront parcel in the Carolinas.

As so seldom happens, the sellers preferred preservation over development.

The original plat of Queens Point was recorded in 1923. This site, in six parcels, is a little over 30 acres. Framing it all is Howe Creek, the Intracoastal Waterway, and farther out Mason Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. Glamorous Figure Eight Island is to the north and built-out Wrightsville to the south.

Howe Creek
Queens Point where the Intracoastal Waterway intersects Howe Creek, looking back up the creek. For an in-depth look at the property and its history see No Place Like Home, Wrightsville Beach Magazine, December 2023. Courtesy Unique Media & Design

“We had a lot of interest from developers,” says selling broker Buzzy Northen.

Approximately 12.6 acres is high ground, and the rest is marsh and wetlands on Howe Creek, formerly known as Barren Inlet Creek. It was not listed for sale.

“The sellers were very intentional to make sure someone would buy the property that would be a good steward of the land,” says Vance Young, the buyers’ agent.

The No. 4 and No. 5 sales of $10.650 million and $10 million were both at Wrightsville Beach.

No. 4 was 7 Cowrie Lane, on the north end, oceanfront on just under a 1-acre lot. The home, built in 2003, featured 5-bedrooms and 6-baths in 5,735sf. Outdoor amenities other than the beach front include an oceanfront pool, a putting green and chipping area, a large grassed side yard, and ample parking, plus a 4-car garage, on a dead-end private street. It sold on December 12 at 88.75 percent of the list price. Days on market were 100.

On Harbor Island on Banks Channel beside the Causeway Drive bridge, 1 Auditorium Circle, sold on May 12 for $10 million, 95.33 percent of list price, after 397 days on market.

“The triangle-area buyer loved the house. They like the ability to walk the loop, walk to the restaurants. They are enjoying it,” says Sam Crittenden of Landmark Sotheby’s International Realty, who with Nick Phillips represented the seller and the buyer.

The flat roof, three-story sound-front house with 8,622sf  was inspired by tropical modernism, and built by Christopher Parker in 2019.

“The house was next level. I get to go into a lot of great houses. That house has just set the bar really high. It is amazing in every aspect — overbuilt, another level, fit and finish,” Crittenden says.

The house sold furnished. The much-acclaimed interior design was by Suzanne Moss.

“The style has become popular, that turnkey, modern beach- or sound-front house on Wrightsville Beach or Figure Eight. As you have seen with the record sales, it has become a pretty sought after design,” says Crittenden. “Three of the top four top sales in New Hanover County were waterfront modern homes. What we have learned is there is a very affluent buyer who likes the modern look. People are looking for that turnkey home with that modern aesthetic.”

Seabreeze East
The number 14 sale in New Hanover county was 7605 Scout Camp Hatila Road. This North Carolina cypress-sided 4,505sf house sold in June for $3.6 million. It was designed and built by a local developer as his primary residence. Situated on 3.98 acres with 80 feet of natural shoreline the home was built for 149-plus mph wind. On the Intracoastal Waterway are a private pier, gazebo and floating dock for boat slip with boat lift. Courtesy Brand Envisioned Photo

Listed by Marcello Caliva with Intracoastal Realty Corp., 6225 Old Military Road was the number 10 sale in all three counties. Selling in December for $4.150 million the 4,104sf  home has 4 bed- rooms and 3 1⁄2 baths. It was built in 1969 by the Godwin Lumber Company family. Architect Rob Romero and general contractor Jason Gannon gave the home a substantial renovation. This 6.92-acre estate size property has 480 feet on the Intracoastal Waterway opposite Masonboro Inlet.

2010 Deep Creek Run was the sixth top sale in the tri-counties. This unique family compound on 4 acres, waterfront with ICW boat dock off Middle Sound Road in Ogden, offered a 2,800sf mid-century primary home built in 1962 and renovated in 2008 by True Builders with design by Dietsche and Dietsche. A semi-attached guest suite/studio is a part of this dwelling. Also on the live oak-canopied property is a classic coastal cottage constructed in the early 2000s. Additional quarters include a guest cottage plus a rec hall where family and friends can play billiards and ping-pong or watch the wide-screen TV. It also included a gazebo, pier with multiple slip floating dock and boat lift, as well as a protected basin. It sold in August after 48 days on the market for $6,382,250. Courtesy Landmark Sotheby’s International Realty

The selling broker was Jessica Edwards with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage.

“It’s a really rare property. To me it is very interesting and what the buyers plan to do from here will elevate the property even more,” says Edwards.

Top Lot/Land Sales New Hanover County

Lot and land selling prices in New Hanover County and at Wrightsville Beach were significant, starting with 66 Pelican Drive on Lees Cut, Harbor Island. This 60-foot-wide waterfront lot sold for $3.85 million. The lot’s existing house had already been removed and a new bulkhead and dock built on the deep water, no-wake zone channel. Closing on July 26, it sold for 96.37 percent of its list price in 121 days.

Wrightsville Beach  
Looking south at Wrightsville Beach from the 500 block of South Lumina Avenue Crystal Pier and then Masonboro Inlet and uninhabited Masonboro Island are seen in the distance. Courtesy Intracoastal Realty Corp

Of the top-20 lot/land sales in the county, all but one was a cash sale. Eighteen were waterfront. Of those, two were lots on the opposite side of Harbor Island, located on Motts Channel.

Lot 85, 218 Seacrest Drive now 220 Seacrest, closed November 21 for $3 million, 80 percent of its list price. Directly beside it, 218 Seacrest Drive lot 86 sold for $2.25 million on June 9. Both offered 70 feet of southern-facing waterfront on Motts Channel.

Across the waterway on the Wilmington mainland, the lot at 1111 Pembroke Jones Drive at Landfall Country Club sold for $3 million, three days before Christmas. One of the last vacant intracoastal waterfront lots at Landfall, it is located on Horseshoe Island, right at the tip of Pembroke Jones Drive. It includes a boat slip and 210 feet of water frontage. 

“That sale came together in just a matter of days,” listing agent Nick Phillips says.

It sold within five days and the sale closed for cash.

Also in Landfall was the county’s No. 10 lot sale, 1005 Turnberry Place, with 127 feet of waterfront selling for $999,300.

The second-highest sale of a lot or land in New Hanover County was 2509 Shandy Lane, Legacy Pointe on Bradley Creek. It sold for $3 million. The 1.58 acres with 111 feet of water frontage features 180-degree, long-range views. It included a 26-foot deep water, protected boat slip and a dredged basin. It is zoned R-20.

1469 Final Landing Lane in Edgewater, a 3.8-acre lot with 221 feet of water frontage, sold for $2 million, the No. 8 top lot sale. This residential lot within view of the Figure Eight Island bridge included marshland. It also included a 1940s main house and guest annex. The four lots had the option to be subdivided for development potential.

Continuing south in New Hanover County, a 14-acre parcel, 5503 Myrtle Grove Road, sold for $1.9 million on August 16. This income-producing property included the workshop of master boatbuilder T.N. Simmons, founder of the original Simmons Sea Skiff boats. The tract zoned R-15 included six parcels, two residential dwellings, and three workshops, plus a glassmaker shop. 

At Carolina Beach, a 3-acre lot at 1101 North Lake Park Boulevard, zoned for commercial or industrial located across U.S. 421 from the new Publix and Sherwin-Williams stores, sold for $2 million on April 27. This was the No. 7 highest lot land sale in the county. 

Staying on Pleasure Island, the Kure Beach top lot/land sale was a multifamily lot at 601 Fort Fisher Boulevard consisting of 3.9 acres that could support town houses, condos, or a hotel/motel. It sold for $2.05 million with a conventional loan on October 3. The sold-to-list price was 89.13 percent. The location offered 100 feet of oceanfront on the former Agape Activity Retreat grounds.

Purchasing existing houses to tear them down to build new construction or to do massive redevelopment on the existing house is not new, but it is a trend on the increase. The neighborhood surrounding the Cape Fear Country Club is seeing steadily more homes purchased as teardowns. 

“That area is a location seeing tremendous growth and change in values. It is a hard one to just pull data on because it is not “Forest Hills,” it is twelve different titled subdivisions in the MLS. But what is happening there with teardowns on golf course lots and off course lots is really something to pay attention to,” Jessica Edwards says. “Multiple homes have sold for over a million, most recently one sold for $1.35 million on Country Club Drive has been torn down and new construction is happening.”

Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach
The number nine sale in New Hanover County was the fourth top sale in Wrightsville Beach and the oldest home to sell there. It is located in the coveted 500 block of S. Lumina Avenue The local buyers specifically purchased for this neighborhood. Built in 1939, this oceanfront cottage sold in January 2023 for $4.4 million, above asking price. One of its many desirable features is 1000sf of deep, covered wraparound porches. Courtesy Intracoastal Realty Corp

“This is my 40th year selling real estate at the beach, so I’ve experienced a lot of economic cycles,” Randall Williams, broker-in-charge at Hardee, Hunt and Williams says. “But in all that time, I’ve only seen values at Wrightsville Beach significantly decrease on two occasions. Once in the wake of [President Ronald] Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms. And after the real estate implosion of 2008. After both of those events, values not only rebounded, they surpassed the highest prices that had ever been paid. I would say owning property at Wrightsville Beach has been a pretty good bet.” 

In Wrightsville Beach residential sales, a noteworthy newly constructed waterfront duplex sale occurred at 422 Causeway Drive. Both sides sold in September, days apart. 422B, the top unit, sold for $2.625 million. It was 1,851sf  with 3-bedrooms, 3-bathrooms. It sold September 15, with a sold price per square feet of $1418.15 that was 97.22 percent of the list price.

Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach saw a decline in the number of condominiums and townhouses sold in 2023, not from lack of demand, rather due to lack of supply. At the end of Stone Street is one of the busiest CAMA beach access in the town. On the left, One South Lumina Suites sits perpendicular to the oceanfront. The Station One complex built in the 1970s is to the right, adjacent going south are the 16 Station One Townhomes. The eight-story, two-building tower saw just two sales in 2023, as opposed to five sales in 2022. The sold prices were equal to the top prices of the previous year. A Station One Townhouse No. 15 sold in October, for $1.759 million, the highest price per square foot of any planned unit condominium sale on Wrightsville Beach. Courtesy Hardee Hunt and Williams

422A, the lower unit, sold September 19 for $2.435 million. It offered 1,649sf  with 3-bedrooms, 3-bathrooms. Located on Motts Channel looking out across Seapath Yacht Club docks, this property also offered a brand-new bulkhead with a 39-foot floating dock and potential for two boat slips for each unit. The list to sale ratio was 97.40 percent. The sold price per square foot was $1,476.65.

At 14 W. Oxford Street, the Van Leuven–Whiteside’s cottage sold for $2.35 million. The cottage built in 1927 is a designated Wrightsville Beach Historic Landmark. The original section of the cottage still featured soft pine floors, original beadboard, a wraparound covered porch, and covered front and back porches. A Cothran Harris addition of master suite, living room and laundry room was made in 1996 and connected to the original cottage with an H-shaped entry.

It sold January 3, 2023. The sold-to-list ratio was 102.17 percent.

A second older cottage sold for $4.4 million. 523 S. Lumina Avenue, a 1939 oceanfront cottage, sold January 4, 2023. The price per square foot was $1,560.28 and the sales to list price ratio was 102.44 percent. The home featured 4-bedrooms, 3-bathrooms and 1,000sf of deep wraparound porches and unobstructed ocean views, coupled with broken sound views.

For the buyers, the neighborhood was important. 

“The buyers bought it to be in that location specifically. They do love that it is an old house and the intention is to keep it that way,” says selling broker Happy Clark with Ivester Jackson Distinctive Properties.

The Real Estate Market in Pleasure Island 

By Fritts Causby

The market in Carolina Beach and Kure Beach in 2023 was emblematic of many other coastal areas, as the majority of the top sales were cash deals.

Carolina Beach
5020 Bowfin Lane, a non-waterfront home with an established Airbnb income, sold for $1.44 million. The corner lot is third row from the ocean with a saltwater pool. Courtesy Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage

Many industry insiders believe decreasing interest rates could result in another red-hot real estate market, as there is a lot of pent-up demand from buyers who are currently feeling the affordability crunch exerted by higher mortgage rates.

“If a property is priced right, you may still find yourself in a multiple offer situation,” says Cynthia Remahl, sales manager/broker-in-charge for Intracoastal Realty in Carolina Beach.

Intracoastal Realty broker Jeff Hovis represented a few unique commercial property sales, including a motel and the oceanfront Agape Ministries Retreat Facility in Kure Beach.

The Proximity project is in process of being built in Carolina Beach, Remahl says. It is a mixed-use development sited on the plot that Harris-Teeter had planned to develop. When completed, the project will include 250 apartments, office/retail space, and restaurants.

“As the prices on Wrightsville Beach began to skyrocket, value buyers looked elsewhere to invest their funds and get the returns they wanted,” says Drew Pittman, leader of the Beatty Pittman Team with Intracoastal Realty Corp.

Pleasure Island: Carolina & Kure Beaches
Oceanfront Atlantic Towers condominiums on 1516 S. Lake Park Boulevard, Carolina Beach. A total of 14 oceanfront 1 bedroom, 1 bath units sold in 2023 ranging in sold price from $330,000-$649,000 for unit 405 and 714 respectively. Courtesy Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage

A broker on his team, Bill Boyer, represented the buyer of 1520 Bowfin Lane, Carolina Beach, one of the few top sales on Pleasure Island that was not on the waterfront. Located a block away from the ocean, the home includes a saltwater pool and a lower-level fourth bedroom with an established rental history as an Airbnb. The residence closed for $1.44 million in an all-cash 1031 (possibly tax-deferred) exchange after only four days on the market.

“I helped the sellers 11 years ago and they became close friends. When they were ready to sell, we prepped their home for the changing real estate market. The buyer came from up north,” says Alison Keller of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, the listing broker.

The highest sale on Pleasure Island was 833 S. Fort Fisher Boulevard, a newly built custom home on the oceanfront, with 8-bedrooms and an elevated saltwater pool. It closed for $3.1 million cash after 200 days on the market.

The highest price per square foot title in Carolina Beach and Kure Beach went to the property at 853 S. Fort Fisher Boulevard, which closed at $2.4 million after six days on the market in another cash sale. The potential vacation rental was built in 1983 and had 2,959sf of interior.

“Overall, there were 64 properties that sold for $900,000 or more on Pleasure Island in 2023, down from 75 in 2022,” notes Jessica Keenan, broker-in-charge of the Carolina Beach Nest Realty office. “The last two years have seen more sales over $1 million on Pleasure Island than ever before.”

Coastal real estate on Pleasure Island is relatively inexpensive in comparison to many other areas.

“Buyers see the value and there is still a lot of room for appreciation, especially compared to the prices on Wrightsville Beach,” says Melanie Cameron, broker with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage who represented the seller of 1204 Carolina Beach Avenue N. in Carolina Beach.

“My recent oceanfront sale in Carolina Beach was a two-unit condo sold to one investor,” Cameron says.

The property closed for $2.12 million after 21 days on the market.

The third-highest sale was located at 402 Sandman Drive, Kure Beach, 4,639sf  built in 2016. It sold for $2.275 million. 

“The owner’s plans changed and he left for the island of St. Croix,” says listing broker Paul Martinez, of Berkshire Hathaway, Carolina Premier Properties. “It has ocean views, an outdoor kitchen, a pool and hot tub.”

It was built by PBC Design and Build.

“The ocean views and craftsmanship made it perfect for our clients,” says Michael Urti, Nest Realty, the buyer’s broker.

Historic Homes and New Construction Dominate Sales In Downtown Wilmington

By Amanda Lisk

Newer homes, condos and townhomes produced quick sales in downtown Wilmington in 2023, many getting snatched up in less than a week. Older homes fared equally as well, with properties in the historic district accounting for more than half of downtown’s top 25 sales.

The historic Hargrove Bellamy Mansion at 1417 Market Street, on a 1-acre lot with mature live oak trees, sold in January 2023 for $710,000 after 442 days on the market. At 8,027sf the home sold at a price of $88.45 per square foot. Courtesy Live Oak Realty and Tim Reavis

While only two homes in the downtown area closed for over $1 million in 2023 compared to 11 properties hitting that mark in 2022, downtown maintained a high level of activity among both local and out-of-town buyers.

Closed volume in the downtown area from Dawson Street to the MLK Parkway, from Front Street to 17th Street, was $109.6 million in 307 sales. The average list price was $364,373. The average sold price was $357,038, a sold-to-list ratio of 97.62 percent. The average days on market were 32.

“Downtown continues to be a very attractive option as we continue to see growth and revitalization,” says Danny Malechuk, chief executive officer and broker with Landmark Sotheby’s International Realty.

Malechuk was the selling broker for a local investment buyer of a townhome at 323 Bladen Street, built in 2020. It closed in January for $790,000 after 11 days on the market.

The top three downtown sales were three of Wilmington’s oldest historic homes.

In September 510 Surry Street sold for $1.625 million to a local buyer. Built in 1795, the home has many original features, including Cape Fear Iron Works remnants and pilings from the Cassidy Shipyard. It spans three lots and overlooks the Cape Fear River with a private boat dock. It was on the market for 112 days.

Historic homes took the top spots in sales in downtown Wilmington, including 510 Surry Street, built in 1795, just north of the Cape Fear River bridge, on the riverfront, with terraced English style gardens on 1.4 acres. It sold for $1.625 million in September. Courtesy Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage

“The gardens are a masterpiece of true English landscaping. It just took a special buyer, someone who loved it as they’ve loved it for the past 40 years,” says selling broker Lisa Pridgen with Coldwell Banker Seacoast Realty.

The second top sale was 116 S. 4th Street, the Williams-Belden House, circa 1872, which sold for the list price of $1.125 million, with multiple offers after seven days on the market.

“It’s a really unique property with an apartment cottage attached that can be rented out,” says listing agent Nicole Valentine with Intracoastal Realty Corp.

The third top sale was 417 S. Front Street, closing at $975,000, just under the asking price, after one day on the market. The John J. Fowler House, circa 1895, was listed by Jennifer Ford with RE/MAX Essential and sold to buyers from Atlanta.

“The house is amazing. It has been taken down to the studs and reconstructed with such love,” says Ford.

The second top sale was the Williamson-Beldon House, circa 1872, located in the historic district at 116 S. 4th Street, which sold for $1.125 million. The 4-bedroom 3 and one half bath home of 2,958sf featured wraparound porches on two lots located at the corner of Cottage Lane and 4th Street. Courtesy Intracoastal Realty Corp

The Georgian Revival, 8,027sf  Hargrove Bellamy Mansion at 1817 Market Street, built by a grandson of Dr. John D. Bellamy (the Bellamy Mansion 503 Market Street) sold in January for $710,000. This was the home of Hargrove Bellamy (1896-1994) and his wife Sarah Lyell Erwin (1898-1987).

Later it became a bed and breakfast, then bank-owned. Having sat empty for years, hurricane damage and vandalism occurred, with a desire to restore the house, it was purchased by Timothy Fussell PhD., founding partner and CEO of Partners South in 2017. Fussell hired Balding Brothers to do the restoration using the original blueprints by Northup & O’Brien, Architects, Winston-Salem (drawn by O.T.H.) dated July 1933, revised September 19, 1933.

Live Oak Real Estate’s Pam Wooddell was the listing and selling broker. The purchasers are a local developer and historic preservationist.

The purchasers are a local developer and historic preservationist, Jason Long, and his wife Deseree Muraglia, now a broker with The Prana Agency.

The couple, the principals of J. Long Custom Homes, reside downtown in a historic home.  Muraglia grew up on Princess Street, walking to school at New Hanover High.

“I had walked past that house for 34 years. I just never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be able to one day own it, much less restore it,” Muraglia says. The designer is Ohara Davies-Gaetano. Muraglia expects the work to be completed by 2026. She will enter it for a Palladio award, one of the most prestigious awards for high standards in historical restoration and renovation.

Eleven of the top 25 downtown sales were sold in seven days or less, mostly new construction for, at or above asking price.

A newly renovated 1920s-built home at 1301 Princess Street, on the market for two days, sold for the list price of $625,000. A fully restored 1917 historic bungalow at 720 N. 5th Avenue, on the market for seven days, sold for above the asking price at $634,000.

Located at 1024 N. 3rd Street, a Time Buildings townhome constructed in 2020 by Bauen Group, sold in zero days. The home is within walking distance of the Brooklyn Arts District, it was listed by Susan Lacy with Intracoastal Realty Corp. and sold to a local buyer for the list price of $619,000.

“This area coupled with newer construction appeals to a broad range of buyers. The larger townhome plus a garage is unique for downtown living,” Lacy says.

Three condos at River Place, 240 N. Water Street, sold in 2023, one to a local buyer and two to out-of-town buyers. Unit #654 sold for more than list price at $800,000.

The Louis T. Moore House, built in 1910 in the historic district at 121 S. 5th Avenue, sold above the list price at $965,000 in five days to out-of-town buyers looking to retire to the area.

The home had been recently renovated. It was downtown’s No. 4 sale.

“It’s unique with its wraparound porch and side entry foyer which is large and flows both left and right, great for entertaining,” says listing broker Lee Crouch, with Intracoastal Realty Corp.

Buyers seeking Airbnb opportunities in downtown are on the uptick, agents say.

410 Orange Street in the historic district was purchased in February for the list price of $830,000 after four days on the market. The buyers from California converted the garage apartment into an Airbnb.

“They have done a great job, it is a mix of Italianate and California modern style,” says selling broker Anna Sillery with Sound and Sea Realty.

Five of the top 25 downtown home sales stayed on the market more than 100 days, all in the historic district.

The Real Estate Market in Pender County 

By Fritts Causby

Pender County was no different than its neighbors, as the pace of sales cooled significantly in 2023. The number of sold listings decreased by more than 11 percent year-over-year. The number of new listings decreased by 7.6 percent. The top summer month of July saw the largest decline on an annual basis, at more than 25 percent.

Old Topsail Creek
The number two sale in Pender County was 109 Deer Cove Road, Hampstead, which sold for $2.8 million in August. Located on 2 acres, the 3-bedroom, 4-bath, 3,725sf home built in 1977, has unsurpassed views of Old Topsail Creek, the ICW, and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Courtesy Intracoastal Realty Corp

Proximity to the ocean, boating opportunities, and water views factored significantly in most of the top sales, including the top sale in Pender County for 2023. This was 2324 Scotts Hill Loop Road, a custom home built in 2023 by Frank Williams on the Intracoastal Waterway with 3-bedrooms and 4-bathrooms described by the listing company as “the perfect blend of luxury and tranquility.” Features include a pier with two boat lifts, a saltwater infinity pool/hot tub, and an open interior with around 3,770sf, all set on a waterfront bluff.

At a closing price of $4,527,000, the price of more than $1,200 per square foot was substantially more than the other Pender top sales.

Scotts Hill Bluff
2324 Scotts Hill Loop Road sold in October for $4.527 million. Nestled on a .88 acre lot, this 4-bedroom 3 and one half bath home was built by Frank Williams in 2023. It fronts the Intracoastal Waterway with big views. Outdoor amenities include heated saltwater infinity pool with a sundeck and hot tub, outdoor kitchen, and multiple covered decks for entertaining. The pier has a gazebo and boat slips with boat lifts. Courtesy Wicker Properties of the Carolinas, Inc.

Two of these sales were in Olde Point, a Hampstead-area country club. Both are on the Intracoastal Waterway, including the No. 2 sale at 109 Deer Cove Road. The 3,725sf  home has spectacular views of Old Topsail Creek, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. This high-elevation, 2-acre lot offered a lot of privacy, with the deep-water boat dock at the front door.

A second, the eighth-highest sale, was located on a 1-acre lot at 338 Olde Point Loop. It spent 221 days on the market before closing on July 5 at $1.95 million, 88.84 percent of list price. The 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom home saw the highest total number of days on market for Pender County residential properties in the top 10.

Most of the other top 10 sales were in Topsail or Surf City on the oceanfront or sound, including 120 North Shore Drive in Surf City, which closed at $2.7 million on November 2, the No. 3 sale.

“I didn’t have to market this property in any special way; I just put it on the MLS,” says Ryan Hall, listing agent and owner/broker of the house. “It has a perfect location in the heart of Surf City, with all the custom amenities.”

Surf City
Selling in November for $7 million, the number three sale in Pender County was 120 North Shore Drive, in Surf City on Topsail Island. This centrally located, 2,829sf oceanfront home with 6 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms sits on a .32-acre lot. The 2022 rental income was more than $184,000. Courtesy Hall Property Specialists, INC

The residence is located on the oceanfront in walking distance to shopping, dining and nightlife options. Along with private stairs to the sand, the three-level home includes an elevator, a second-floor deck with a hot tub overlooking the ocean, and 6 bedrooms with 4 bathrooms. The sale was a 1031 exchange, named for an IRS rule that makes it possible to avoid capital gains.

“This was the biggest residential sale in Surf City history,” says Hall.

Six of the top 10 residential sales were cash deals. In nine of the top 20 transactions, both sides were represented by the same agent.

Bald Head Island Lands Top Home Sale in Brunswick County

By Christine R. Gonzalez

The top 2023 MLS driven home sale in Brunswick County was a $6,750,000 oceanfront home on Bald Head Island, surpassing last year’s top sale in the county by more than $2.5 million. The 5-bedroom, 5-bath, 5,000sf  home located at 710 Shoals Watch Way was designed by Chuck Dietsche and built in 2005.

Ocean Isle
The number two sale in Brunswick County was 41 Craven Street on Ocean Isle Beach, which sold in July for $3,634,560. Built in 2005 this grand Mediterranean-style home with 5-bedrooms, 6 and one half baths in 4,300sf on a .4-acre waterfront lot on the Intracoastal Waterway. Outdoor amenities include a heated swimming pool, hot tub, pier and dock. Courtesy Intracoastal Realty Corp

“Castello Della Balena (Castle of the Whale) was purchased by a delightful man who already owns one house on the island. He has always loved it and considers himself a steward of it instead of a purchaser,” Wendy Wilmont of Wendy Wilmont Properties says.

She was both the listing and selling broker of the home with its light-filled upper long room, exquisite in its exposed architectural components that bring to mind a whale ribcage.

The No. 2 sale in the county was a Mediterranean-style, 5-bedroom, 6-bath, 4,300sf  home on Craven Street in Ocean Isle that sold for $3,634,560. Its dramatic entryway leads to a view of the ICW.

“It was sort of a strange year,” says selling broker Bonnie Rotundo Coldwell Banker Sloan Realty. “We saw interest rates jump substantially. We still have not had a major correction in prices. We’re overdue one, but it doesn’t ever seem to materialize.”

The quaint town of Southport made the list at No. 6 with a $3 million sale of a multi-level farmhouse-style home with gorgeous island and ocean views. Sitting on the Cape Fear River, the home at 302 E. Bay Street has 5-bedrooms, 3-baths, 3,396sf and has numerous decks. It also has a pier with a covered dock.

Selling broker Debi Gallo, manager of the St. James Properties location at the Marina, was told the sale is the highest ever MLS listing for the town. It will be a second home for a multi-generational family from California.

“It was a fabulous year in Southport. We are in a dynamic real estate market that has a unique blend of  coastal charm, historical intrigue, and modern-day vibrancy. Southport and its vibrant waterfront has been a magnet for retirees, second-home owners, and now young families,” Gallo says.

She says that Southport is also seeing a workforce housing boom because of all the new businesses and big box stores being built.

Throughout the tri-county area, demand is evident while supply continues to be restricted.

“More people want to be here than leave. That’s old economics,” Sam Crittenden says. “More demand than supply. We have a very sought-after place to live.”

The unique coastal quality of life has highlighted southeastern North Carolina on the national map.

“It is this quality of life – the combination of mild four-season weather, beautiful pristine beaches and our growing urban amenities – that locals treasure and outsiders have taken delight in discovering, that has placed Wilmington on so many national relocation lists,” says Vance Young.


All overall sold numbers represent sales of all property types from 1/1/2023 to 12/31/2023, and are sourced from NCRMLS. Information is deemed reliable, but is not guaranteed.

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