In recent years, Realtors in the Wilmington area have juggled dozens of offers for one house.
But those days might be gone for the most part, at least for now.
“I would not say it’s a buyer’s market. But I think you’re seeing things loosen up a little bit, where you’re not seeing a ton of multiple offers. You may see two or three but not 20 to 25,” said Ryan Crecelius, principal broker for the Wilmington branch of Nest Realty. “Some of our agents were having to create special custom spreadsheets just to organize all the offers to deliver to the seller.”
In 2024, people are being more realistic, he said.
“They’re willing to wiggle just a little bit to make it appetizing for folks to purchase their property,” Crecelius said.
While predictions vary about what will happen in the region’s real estate industry this year, one of the certainties is that Realtors and economists will continue to watch interest rates. On Jan. 15, the 30-year mortgage interest rate was 7%, according to Bankrate.com, and economists have speculated in news reports that the Federal Reserve could start cutting interest rates by mid-2024.
“I think that there are a few things we can say very confidently, and others are speculative at this stage,” said Mouhcine Guettabi, a regional economist based at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, of his forecast for 2024’s housing market. “Barring a reacceleration in inflation, I think interest rates are going to be lower in 2024 than they were in 2023. And obviously, that has big, big implications for the region.”
He said lower interest rates will equate to more demand, “meaning more buyers are going to come off the sidelines, but at the same time, more sellers are gonna start putting their homes up for sale.”
A surprising thing about 2023, Guettabi said, is that prices held up.
“And they held up for the very basic reason that while a lot of buyers were dissuaded from buying because of the high interest rates, a lot of would-be sellers were not willing to sell because they’re sitting on 2 to 3% mortgages, and they weren’t willing to trade those for 8% mortgages,” he said.
The median sale price in November (the most recent month for which a local report was available as of press time) in the combined region of New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties was $400,000, nearly the same price as November 2022, according to Cape Fear Realtors statistics.
In New Hanover County alone, CFR reported a median price for November of $424,877.
A lack of affordable housing remains a concern among local officials and Realtors, said Amanda Parmer, 2024 president of CFR and president of Wilmington-based residential real estate firm BlueCoast Realty Corp.
“The housing affordability situation is a nationwide crisis, and it’s no different here in Wilmington,” Parmer said. “So as long as the interest rates are higher, it’s going to drive the monthly payment higher, and that’s a really big deal for all the homebuyers right now. It’s going to be a factor.”
As long as the area lacks inventory, “that median sales price isn’t going to creep down anytime soon,” she said.
But a more significant threat could be a potential hike in homeowners insurance rates, Parmer said.
“Everybody expects there to be dips with interest rates this year, which will be great. But the big headline is going to be if insurance rates increase or stay the same,” Parmer said. “So we have a drop in interest rates, the insurance rates are probably going to fill that affordability gap and just widen it for all the homebuyers out there.”
According to a state announcement Jan. 5, the N.C. Rate Bureau is asking for a nearly 100% increase in homeowners’ insurance rates for the beach areas of New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties. The average statewide increase would be 42.2%.
The rate bureau, which represents companies that write insurance policies in the state, asked for the rates to become effective Aug. 1. But state officials typically talk those numbers down.
“This rate filing follows the homeowners’ insurance rate filing that the Department of Insurance received from the North Carolina Rate Bureau in November 2020, where the Rate Bureau requested an overall average increase of 24.5%,” the release stated. “That filing resulted in a settlement between Commissioner Causey and the Rate Bureau for an overall average rate increase of 7.9%.”
The potential cost increase posed by the rate hike request isn’t the only unknown factor in 2024.
“The wildcard in all of this and the thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot is what role migration has played during the pandemic in keeping prices up,” Guettabi said. “And we know that migration peaked around 2022 [according to state numbers]. And so, where are these buyers coming from? Is it the locals that are dissatisfied with their living situation or renters? Or are they people coming from other places and for 2024? I don’t think that we’re going to see the level of migration that we saw in 2022 and 2021. That doesn’t mean that the area is going to shrink.”
Denise Kinney, president of Wilmington-based agency Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, shared some predictions.
“Pricing will remain flat or experience a slight increase (2-3%) due to more inventory coming on the market,” Kinney said in an email Jan. 15. “Declining interest rates will attract more buyers and in turn, more competitive offers.”
She also said, “The market will experience a soft landing in terms of a recession due to it being a presidential election year.”
Expect more of the same in 2024 in the realm of single-family home construction, experts say.
“Three factors that will still impact single-family construction as we move into 2024 are elevated mortgage rates, construction costs and chronic construction labor shortages,” said Cameron Moore, the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association’s executive officer, in an email on Dec. 5. “The elevated mortgage rates have certainly had a cooling effect on the overall residential market, but over the last 45 days, we have seen rates start to fluctuate back down.”
But the area still has some advantages over other communities in the U.S., according to Moore.
“The Cape Fear region, due to its quality of life and job creation, is still a very attractive place for people to relocate to. The key to remember in our area is that there is still a lot of consumer demand at a time when housing supply levels are still at some of their lowest levels,” Moore said. “Because of this, we certainly encourage consumers to purchase now and then once rates come back down – which they will – look at refinancing options.”