Washed out by Florence, Wilmington housing market looks to rebound

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Sales took a hit, but officials say the recovery is well underway — although caution it won’t happen overnight

WILMINGTON – Hurricane Florence had an impact on nearly every community and industry in the region, and the housing market has been no different.

In the weeks since the storm cut a path through Southeastern North Carolina, local realtors have taken stock of their listings and assessed any damages that need to be addressed. But other factors linger for homes that were already under contract when Florence hit.

Tim Milam, president of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, said the first three to four weeks after a storm the market can often grind to a halt.

“You don’t have a lot of contract activity and closings are delayed to repair damage,” he said.

New contracts might not be drawn up, but Milam the existing ones are more than likely going to move forward.

“The majority of these contracts, probably 80-90 percent, that were in place prior to the storm are still going to closing,” he said. “You may seem some fall out because of damage or homebuyers just don’t want to live on the beach after a hurricane.”

In the first week of October, Milam said he was seeing the market’s pulse began to quicken again with 100 contracts. The average is about 175, he said.

Buying opportunity?

Melanie Cameron, a realtor with Caldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, has lived in the region since 1994 and knows the slow period following a hurricane.

But with limited housing for those displaced, Cameron said major storms can actually serve as a push for those on the fence about buying.

“I’ve seen several renters that were displaced during the storm that are now homebuyers,” she said. “The rental markets are so saturated right now with people needing a place to live, so those people who were renting and can afford to buy have taken that leap.”

The destruction wrought by Florence on the Carolinas — and Hurricane Michael on Florida — could prove to stoke apprehension on potential buyers moving to an area known to be prone to hurricanes. But Milam said it is not new information.

“People who move to the coast know there is going to be a hurricane,” he said. “Some buyers may feel that apprehension so soon after a storm, but we know they are coming, and builders are building hurricane-proof houses.”

Cameron said it will take time for people from outside the region to understand Wilmington is not uninhabitable, and promotion of its continued status as a great destination will be key.

“These storms aren’t going to scare us,” she said. “But to be honest, it has been uncharted territory for all of us. Florence was a bigger storm with more damage. Luckily, people have been accommodating, lenders have been accommodating, and buyers and sellers are more understanding.”

Getting back on track

As they tend to their own listings and prepare them for buyers, real estate agents are also local residents still working on their own personal recovery.

Cameron said the tenants living in a property she owns and rents moved out just two weeks before the storm. During Florence, a massive oak tree fell through the house, brought down by what she thinks was a tornado.

“It makes you reflect and really have a better understanding of how lucky you are,” she said.

When the books are closed on 2018, Milam said he expected September to take a big hit on sales — simply because the market only had 12-13 days before the storm hit and recovery persisted through the rest of the month.

Milam said he has a gut feeling October will be off about 25 percent year-over-year, but the spring will be back on track if not better for sales.

“After the storm, the market is getting better every day,” he said.

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.