OBX home sales are competitive, but it's a dream worth the pursuit

Many vacationers who dream of living on the sandbar often invest in a rental property that will generate income and help finance their long-term dream. It's a win-win because it opens up the rental market for full-time residents in need of housing.

For as long as there has been a population on the Outer Banks, the occupants have enjoyed the riches of the sea as both income and sustenance. While it has been a fishing community for generations, the number one industry on the Outer Banks in recent years is tourism.

Employing an estimated 30,000 workers and supporting a large number of tourism-dependent industries, tourism shapes nearly aspect of life on the Outer Banks. A small series of towns and villages scattered along a narrow ribbon of sand, few people call the area home on a year-round basis, but home sales are competitive.

Visitors can choose from a host of hotels, motels and B&Bs, as well as homes — both on and off the beach — offered as vacation rental properties managed by owners, rented through Airnbnb, or, most often, maintained by local property management groups.

Between the rental market, second homes, and year-round residents, housing is in demand along the Outer Banks.

According to the UNC Population Center, Dare County is the only county in North Carolina to have nearly as many housing units as year round residents. According to a study, “In the 2013 population estimates, [Dare County] had nearly 35,000 permanent residents. At the same time, they had about 34,000 housing units. To put this in perspective: statewide, there is about one housing unit for every 2.2 people. In Dare, there is about one housing unit for every person.”

The study also revealed that 44 percent of the county’s housing units were seasonal.

With homes being in such demand, the market becomes competitive. According to Coldwell Banker Mid-Year Market Report published in September 2017, homes in Kill Devil Hills stayed on the market and average of 115 days.

Average sale prices have continued to grow, while the number of homes on the market remain fairly consistent. According to the Outer Banks Association of Realtors MLS Statistical Report, the median price of homes in 2015 was $325,000 with 13,500 homes entering the market.

The average price in 2016 remained the same, while 1,415 homes entering the market — up from 2014’s average cost of $299,000 with 1,295 units sold. As of May 31, 2017, the median price of a home in 2017 was $339,000 with 635 units sold.

Larry Lombardi, economic development director of Currituck County, owned a vacation home on the Outer Banks before moving to the area permanently in 2005.

“The place we loved to visit became the place we loved to call home,” Lombardi says, adding he’s living proof that dreams can come true. “If the thought of living and working here has ever crossed your mind, there’s no better time to consider launching, expanding or relocating a business in Currituck County.”

Lombardi says Currituck County is “officially one of the fastest growing counties in North Carolina, and exciting changes are on the horizon.”

He says, “Development projects are set to transform the mainland. Major infrastructure improvements will connect us across the Currituck Sound, across the state to Raleigh and across the border into Virginia.”

Currituck County appeals to many home buyers because “Our tax rates are lower. Our business costs are lower,” Lombardi says.

Elizabeth Hudson, property manager at Southern Shores Realty, says what buyers look at most when shopping for an income property doesn’t hinge on something like curb appeal as much as the home’s overall rental performance history.

“What home buyers are looking at more than anything is how well-rented it was last year,” Hudson says. “They want to look at proof positive that — if they buy it — they can relatively easily take it over and have it continue to rent with minor upgrades.”

Property managers continue to serve as an advocate for homes during the sale process.

That continued attention benefits both buyer and seller while keeping guests happy during the sale process. Local expert support can help steer buyers to making the most of their money.

With a heavy demand for visitor accommodation, private second homes, and homes for both year round and seasonal workers, the housing market in the Outer Banks can be difficult and competitive, but buyers and sellers have a variety of resources available to help them navigate the tricky market.

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