Real Estate - Residential

Homebuilders Navigate Coronavirus

By Cece Nunn, posted Jul 17, 2020
The Riverlights community off River Road, which includes Del Webb at Riverlights, has been bustling with building activity.
Homebuilding continues in the Wilmington area at a rapid pace, having been able to work through the coronavirus pandemic by being deemed an essential industry from the beginning, a local industry leader said this month.
Wilmington and unincorporated New Hanover County permit numbers increased in April and slightly rose again in June for new residential construction. A lot of recent building activity in the city can be attributed to homes on the rise in Riverlights, said Cameron Moore, executive officer of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association.
Riverlights, a 1,400-acre master planned community off River Road in Wilmington that includes residential sites, commercial space and access to the Cape Fear River, is expected to include more than 2,200 homes at full build-out.
Del Webb Wilmington, the builder for the parts of Riverlights set aside for buyers ages 55 and older, has released a new residential phase featuring homesites surrounded by woodlands and wetlands, along with special homebuyer incentives in July.
The first release includes 16 homesites in the new enclave, according to a news release. Ten home designs, beginning at $254,990 and ranging from two to five bedrooms and two to four bathrooms, are on offer in the gated community. Del Webb Wilmington is currently home to more than 400 residents.
“With extremely low levels of homes on the market and historically low interest rates, the demand for new homes continues to be strong,” said Jason Willard, Del Webb Wilmington’s general sales manager, in a recent email.
Another Riverlights builder, PBC Design + Build, has had similar experiences with some buyers.
“High-net-worth clients and retirees haven’t missed a beat,” said Dave Spetrino, founder of PBC Design + Build. “If anything, they are more interested in ‘living now’ than delaying their long-term plans or life goals with regard to location and lifestyle.
“Even with travel restrictions and social distancing, we continue to field inquiries from out-of-market buyers planning to relocate to the region. It’s taking a little longer to move them through the process, but in many cases our clients are glad to have the ability to focus – or distract – themselves from everything else that is going on around them.”
But homebuilding these days is not without its challenges.
“Our co-workers, vendors and subcontractors have been doing their best to remain productive while complying with the established guidelines. With that said, it’s still very much a ‘day-by-day’ process with schedule coordination, delivery delays – in addition to the normal challenges associated with the industry,” Spetrino said in an email.
He said his company’s finished inventory was down in June from where it was last year.

“We currently have one home for sale (townhome, Riverlights, $500K) vs. seven homes in the region June 2019,” Spetrino said.
One reason permit numbers were up in some parts of the area was because of the last economic downturn, the Great Recession.
So builders might not have necessarily been ready to build at the outset of restrictions aimed at slowing the pandemic, Moore said, “but they wanted to go ahead and get everything they needed to have in place … Talking with our members and the builders, vendors and suppliers, everyone learned a lot through the recession, and what they learned was having a pipeline of work was very, very key.”
Another change for the WCFHBA this year has been a fully digital open house tour, the Showcase of New Homes.
The showcase allowed potential homebuyers to digitally view a variety of homes and builders throughout Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick counties that were supposed to be showcased in this year’s Parade of Homes.
Because of scheduling challenges presented by the novel coronavirus, the association worked with one of its member firms, Wilmington Design Co., to build and automate a digital platform for the showcase.
“The spring buying season is traditionally, year after year, one of the busiest times in real estate,” said Craig Smith, 2020 WCFHBA president, in a news release in May. “However, this year, our industry has faced a lot of challenges brought on by the coronavirus in regard to in-person showings. This digital platform provides us the necessary means to capture much of the real estate market momentum that still very much exists right now.”
The homes featured include single- family and townhouses as well as custom homes with prices from the $200,000s to more than $1.6 million.
Since the showcase started in May, it has had more than 80,000 digital impressions and allowed for a targeted approach, Moore said.
“We know where the buyers are largely coming from. And we’ve placed that showcase, the Showcase of New Homes, essentially at those buyers’ fingertips,” Moore said. “The digital perspective has really allowed us to branch out and reach the customer base where a lot of our builders are marketing to.”

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