Home, retail sales return to pre-recession levels; continued growth expected

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Economic and real estate experts believe new construction, like the sprawling RiverLights development, coupled with an increase in home and retail sales are strong indicators the Cape Fear region will continue to grow in coming years. Courtesy photo.
Economic and real estate experts believe new construction, like the sprawling RiverLights development, coupled with an increase in home and retail sales are strong indicators the Cape Fear region will continue to grow in coming years. Courtesy photo.

With home sales and retail business on the rise around the Cape Fear region, all signs point to continued growth for the Port City.

That’s according to local real estate and economic experts who released statistics earlier this week for both New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

In its first housing and economic climate report – a joint effort with the Cape Fear Home Builders Association – the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors (WRAR) found a 22 percent jump in March sales over the same time last year. The WRAR–and its inaugural report–covers most the tri-county area, as well as Duplin and Sampson counties.

Last month, 712 single-family units sold in the region, compared to 583 in March 2015, although the average price dipped from approximately $247,256 to $246,665. Still, median prices are up from $196,000 last year to $203,500 for March 2016. Houses are also spending less time on the market, now sitting for an average of 112 days, a figure the area hasn’t seen since 2007.

And, more importantly, Realtors say, the recent increase in home sales returns the region to the pre-bubble burst nearly a decade ago.

In a separate report, Brunswick County Association of Realtors (BCAR) noted a 14.4 percent jump in total home sales between March of 2015 and last month. The number of sold units rose 21.3 percent, from 221 to 268, between 2015 and 2016, and the total number of listings, from 439 to 552.

“Spring selling season is definitely gearing up in Brunswick County,” BCAR CEO Cynthia Cumbie said. “Our Realtors are working hard and seeing positive signs of an active spring and summer in residential sales.”

When it comes to new construction, northern Brunswick County is maintaining the same strong numbers it has shown even through tougher economic times, said Cameron Moore, executive officer of the Cape Fear Home Builders Association. Even when building in the Leland area has slowed, Moore said it hasn’t been as significant as other parts of the county.

Located just over the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, Leland and surrounding towns like Belville are anchored by sprawling developments, such as Magnolia Greens, and adjacent commercial centers with a mix of big box stores and locally owned shops and restaurants.

A total of 2,192 residential building permits were issued in Brunswick County last year, and New Hanover saw 1,093 permits, 989 of which were issued for construction in the unincorporated areas.

An influx of businesses has been supported by retail sales, according to UNC-Wilmington economics professor Dr. Woody Hall.

Hall said the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) – currently at near “full employment” and continuing its upward retail trend – is the eighth fastest growing MSA in the state (there are 15) based on 2013-14 output.

“Growth in the Wilmington MSA in both 2015 and 2016 is forecast to be greater than the same in both the state and nation,” Christine Williams, WRAR’s director of marketing and communication, added in a release.

The rapid rise of retail sales is a strong indicator of the overall growth of the region, Williams said, since consumer spending accounts for a majority–as much as 70 percent–of all economic activity.

Since 2009, retail sales have increased at a faster rate than the number of businesses, effectively increasing average sales per outlet. WRAR believes that might be due in part to the build-up of “excess retail capacity,” Williams said, a capacity put in place before the most recent recession.

Looking ahead, WRAR and the Cape Fear Home Builders Association are looking at ways to keep the momentum in economic and real estate growth going, including more community involvement, demographic studies and more job training opportunities.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.