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Demand still high in ENC housing markets, even as mortgage rates rise

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Home prices in North Carolina were up 4.4% in July compared to last year, according to Redfin. The good news for homeowners is that’s higher than the national inflation rate for the same month. The average home sold in New Bern and Jacksonville increased at 9% and 20% respectively, while Greenville’s dropped 2%. A common thread, however, between three of Eastern North Carolina’s largest cities is a consistently high demand among home buyers.


Just like the national trend, home prices in New Bern have skyrocketed, says Scott Allenspach, a realtor with Keller Williams.

He pointed to Derby Park, a neighborhood of small patio homes. A couple years ago, a two-bedroom home in the area would sell for $75,000. It was an affordable option for first-time home buyers and those with low incomes. But recently, these homes have sold for almost double that price.

“Those prices have jumped over the last five to ten years and it's crazy that those used to be affordable neighborhoods for a single family, maybe just someone starting out, and then you would work your way up,” he said. “Derby Park was one of those great neighborhoods. However, now the prices there have gone through the roof – skyrocketed. So, it's difficult for someone that's just out of college to purchase a home because that was an affordable neighborhood and now it's been a little priced out.”

Right now, New Bern is a seller’s market, meaning homes receive several offers and are often sold above asking price. That’s been the case for a while now, says Allenspach.

“The builders stopped building in 2008 through 2012,” Allenspach said, referring to the 2008 Great Recession, prompted by a housing bubble and risky lending practices. "That's a four-year gap that we didn't build 200 homes a year, so now the builders are trying to build them as quickly as they can, and people are buying them just to be as an investment property.”

Driving through New Bern, you can see all the new construction going on, especially with apartment complexes. Two apartment complexes appeared seemingly overnight in West New Bern, along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., and new single-family housing units are being built in Fairfield Harbor, as well as newer subdivisions like Bluewater Rise and Lakeview. Katie Rinehart, also with Keller Williams, says the new construction is indicative of just how high demand is in New Bern. Rinehart helps people find rentals.

“I get calls almost daily from people looking for homes, and it's like there's a shortage,” Rinehart said, referring to renters. “That's a lack of housing and I think that's another reason why you're seeing so much growth in the area with new homes and apartment complexes being built up. There's definitely a need for it.”

The housing market in New Bern remains tight, but things are slowly cooling down, according to Allenspach.

“We're starting to see a trend where buyers are starting to get a little bit more,” he said. “Prices are coming back down to normalcy. It's higher, but we don't have to pay $25,000 over asking right now and we're not having a hundred offers.”


Jacksonville, like New Bern, is a unique market. Military members make up a large share of buyers and renters. With the consolidation of the Marine Corps Special Operations (MARSOC) at Camp Lejeune in 2020, Onslow County’s population – and competition – has increased, and the housing stock struggles to keep pace.

“It's the seller's market, and they're trying to get all that money that they can,” Casey Bagwell, a realtor at Great Moves Realty in Jacksonville, said. “There's multiple offers and all that stuff that happens with the seller's market.”

According to Redfin, the median home price in July was up 20% compared to a year earlier, and a new listing spent an average of 10 days on the market.

Bagwell says there’s a consistent stream of homes entering the market due to new military members arriving at Camp Lejeune and others being deployed or transferred. Even then, she notes the number of new listings has decreased.

“There's fewer homes on the market now than there were a year ago,” she said. “But it's still pretty consistent, and there's still homes out there to be bought.”

With the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate hitting 7.5%, Bagwell says first-time homebuyers are even more skiddish, but ought not to be.

“A lot of people are hesitant, but like we always say in real estate, ‘You're going to date the rate, and marry the house,'” Bagwell said. “Anytime there's a drop in the rates, you can always refinance.”

Jacksonville, too, is experiencing a boom in new single-family construction, like in the Onslow Bay and Stateside neighborhoods.

Bagwell says with a growing population and the constant inflow and outflow of people, she doesn’t expect much to change in the coming year.

“I personally think prices are going to probably stay about the same. The market might shift, but I don't see the prices changing much once the rates drop,” she said.


As for Greenville, the housing market appears to be on its way to stabilizing, says Khristi Dixon, owner and broker of Emerald City Realtors in Greenville.

“It's definitely a seller's market still, but we are seeing price reductions more so than we have in the past because I don't think everybody has slowed down their pandemic momentum,” Dixon said.

The median home price in Greenville dropped 2% in July compared to a year earlier, according to Redfin. That does signal more homes are selling below asking price, but that doesn’t mean a lot of homes will suddenly be within range for many first-time homebuyers. The rapid increase in home prices over the last decade, and especially during the pandemic, has put many houses out of reach for first-time buyers.

“It's very competitive for buyers, especially if you're looking under $250,000,” Dixon said. “You can expect to compete with multiple cash offers still.”

Dixon says competition only increases the lower the housing cost, with many homes being sold to cash investors.

“Anybody who's looking under $150,000, they just don't really have much of a chance,” she said.

Dixon tells her clients looking for a starter home that they may need to adjust expectations and get comfortable with commuting.

‘’If you are a first-time homebuyer and your price point is under $200,000, the best thing you can do is expand your location,” she said. “If you are working, living mainly in Greenville, I would suggest that you broaden your search to Ayden and Farmville."

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.