Here We Grow: Wilmington's real estate explosion

Published: Mar. 14, 2016 at 2:36 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Wilmington is seeing a lot of new construction when it comes to residential and commercial developments.

For the first time in almost a decade, the housing market is making a comeback.

Glen Harbeck, Director of Planning, Development and Transportation for the city of Wilmington, said he is not surprised.

"We're coming out of the great recession and we went through about a four year period from about 2008 to 2012, when we had very little, if any development," he said. "We've had pent up demand and the flood gates have kind of opened."

Harbeck said he's seeing the most growth in downtown, midtown and River Road.


Downtown Wilmington has seen vast improvements since the construction of convention center in 2010. The momentum will continue now that the city will now build a new Embassy Suites hotel for the convention center. A new apartment complex is also under construction near the Isabelle Holmes bridge. Sooner than later, a new marina will be built along the riverfront.

Jimmy Hopkins, one of Wilmington's top selling realtors, has an office in downtown Wilmington with Intracoastal Realty. He said downtown has exploded over the past year.

"It's absolutely amazing the difference in a year," Hopkins said. "There's new retail, restaurants, Farming on Front, so they'll be grocery downtown again, and the performing arts center, which I think has been the biggest game changer for this part of downtown in the past 25 years."

Hopkins is also the exclusive marketing broker for another new housing and retail development planned for downtown Wilmington. It will be called Riverplace and it will go up between Front and Water Streets, once the Water Street parking deck comes down over the summer. There will be 92 residential units, ranging from $250,000 to over a half million.

"There will be a rooftop pool, fitness center and all kinds of nice things," he said.


New development is also taking place off the 17th Street and Independence Boulevard. More than 30 acres of land along the 17th Street extension will soon become home to Pointe at Barclay, a retail development that will include restaurants, shops and a 14-screen movie theater.

Across the street, there's The Forks, a new housing development. Many of the homes are already built and on the market.

Shawn Horton of Trust Builders said buyers are attracted to the midtown area because of convenience.

"Location, location, location," Horton said. "It's actually location, quality, value, and convenience."

Townhomes at The Forks start at about $335,000. Single family homes are a little over $400,000.


The largest tract of undeveloped land in Wilmington is off of River Road. It will become a new residential and retail development called Riverlights.

"We'll have about 2500 homesites when we're built out," said Livian Jones.

Jones is Vice President of Operations for Riverlights. She said the developers, Newland Communities, looked at building the project in 2006, but they were forced to put it on hold after the economy tanked. She said after much research, they decided it was a good time to construct a new River Road, complete with bike paths and walking trails and the new Riverlights.

"We build across the country and we go to areas that are experiencing growth and one of the reasons we put this project on hold back in 2006 was the economy and I believe with us starting things back a year and a half ago, its shows optimism in the market and some things that are going on the market is strong right now and we hope it stays that way," she said.

Home prices start at around $250,000 and go up to around $500,000.


Right now there are about 1,500 homes on the market in Wilmington with a median sales price of $196,000.

The average income for a family of four in Wilmington is around $50,000.

Paul D'Angelo, chair of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition, said while new projects going up in Wilmington will enhance the look of the city, most don't meet the needs of a large segment of the local population.

"They're beautiful and I think they're going to end up being great additions to the community and really kind of help re-develop Wilmington, but there really is a little bit of a miss when it comes to housing that's affordable for the general population, where about 60% of our workers in town are lower income or moderate workers making about $10 to $12 an hour," he said.

The standard rule is that homeowners and even renters should spend no more than 30% of their income on mortgages and rent.

D'Angelo said developers should consider building more apartment complexes like Lockwood Village, off South College Road. The property was built under a tax credit government project. About 70% of the development cost is paid with state and federal funds. The developer is able to pass along the savings to tenants. In some cases, rent is as low as $250 a month.

"And that's really great," said D'Angelo. "If you take someone making $30,000 a year, look at your 30% that you should spend on housing, divide that by 12 and that's where it ends up to be about $600 a month and that's affordable."

The Cape Fear Housing Coalition is currently conducting a survey, along with UNCW to get input on affordable housing. To participate in that survey, click here.


More than 60,000 more people are expected to call Wilmington home within the next 25 years.

Will Wilmington run out of space?

"We have about 30,000 overall acres in the city and about a little less than 7,000 are vacant and of those 7,000 acres of vacant land only about three and half thousand are available because of wetlands, flood plains, federally-owned lands and things like that," Harbeck said.

Local planners, developers and realtors believe Wilmington will have to look at other housing options.

"The expression we're using in the city these days is since we're not going outward, we're going inward and upward," he said.

Hopkins added this.

"I think you'll see a lot of infill development like Charlotte and Raleigh, where in prime locations, people will buy houses tear them down and build bigger houses" he said. "But I do think condos and multi-family townhome-type properties out of necessity will become much more abundant in the area. Plus, folks I think want to live that way now."

Will Wilmington see a repeat recession?

No one has a crystal ball, but local real estate experts are banking on the future.

"Historically, expansion phases last anywhere from 4-7 years," said Andy Richardson of Remax Essentials."While it is not expected that we will see 15 to 20 percent annual jumps in the expansion phase, as long as local demand continues to outpace local supply, we will continue to see strong market conditions and the current trend of a steady 3 to 4 percent appreciation per year looks sustainable for the foreseeable future."

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