Once again, Onslow County’s housing market defies national trends since the U.S. market imploded about a decade ago.
This week, The Associated Press is releasing a deep study of the nation’s housing market since 2006. That report depicts many U.S. metropolitan areas now facing high rents and low levels of home ownership. The report also attributes disparity between high rent for many middle-aged Americans and low mortgage bills for homeowners who weathered the Great Recession by refinancing their homes. Those who refinanced had extremely low interest rates, according to the study.
But in Onslow County, high rent is common at luxury apartments and high-end homes — but not for all available homes. The county’s market is packed with properties for rent, and for sale, and that has reduced price levels for both, according to information from local realty listings and local real estate professionals. They said Onslow County has many renters because of its house-saturated market with low-priced options.
The Associated Press study attributes the rise in tenants to rising rent levels they cannot escape.
But in Onslow County, rent has been dropping for years, said Ken Brandon, former president and current member of Jacksonville Board of Realtors.
The Jacksonville Metropolitan Area — all of Onslow County — is in the smallest bracket of metro areas with 100,000 households or fewer. The data use U.S. Census information from 2006-2014. The findings placed Onslow County in the “Parent Category” for areas with many middle-aged residents renting — instead of owning — homes.
The area was below national averages for home ownership, with 53 percent of the assessed population in that category. The national homeowner rate is 64 percent, according to the study.
Onslow County had 38 percent of middle-aged adults — 35-to-54 years old — who rented in 2014. The county also was 16th among small metro areas for its rise in rentals of single-family-detached homes. That’s out of a category of 182 “small” metro areas, according to the study. The county was 25th among all metro areas for growth in rental population from 2006 to 2014. That’s out of 353 metro areas overall.
From a local perspective, falling rent and low purchase prices are packing Onslow County with housing options, Brandon said.
“It doesn’t make sense to say sales are up and rentals are up, too, but they’ve got to be,” Brandon said.
He tracks Multiple Listing Service data and other resources. Last year, when Onslow County Board of Commissioners held a housing expo, its leadership called on Brandon to interpret and explain local housing data.
From his recent research, the area’s housing market is bustling with renters and buyers.
“You can show people the numbers all they want, but there is still a feeling in the public’s eye that housing isn’t as robust as it once was,” he said.
Many homeowners are renting out their properties while they wait for price levels to rise, he added.
“And because we’re still in a transition, and because we had a peak long after the rest of the nation did, people are having to bring money to the table,” Brandon said of anyone willing to sell below his or her purchase price.
In Onslow County, there is no shortage of rental properties — including rental houses and mobile homes.
Zillow.com lists 1,239 residential rentals in Onslow. Those include a $395 monthly apartment in Jacksonville, and low $450 monthly rentals each for townhomes and mobile homes in Jacksonville. Most low rents listed mobile homes, townhomes and houses. Most apartment rentals reflected mid-to-upper-level monthly rates.
Brandon said Onslow County’s rental rates have dropped because there are many available.
He did not think rise in rental listings stemmed from inability to buy homes. Home sales, he said, would finish strong in 2016 as well.
New construction sales have dropped over the last three-and-a-half years. Otherwise, sales overall have improved since 2012, Brandon said.
“At one time, we had 1,200 to 1,300 new construction listings,” he said. “I just checked last week and we had 290.”
Compare that to 2,747 homes for sale in Onslow County at Zillow.com.
Those listings portray a vast range of prices. Mobile home sellers in Sneads Ferry asked $10,000 for one property and $12,000 for another. By contrast, a North Topsail Beach listing asks $1.9 million for a five-bedroom, five-bathroom home on New River Inlet Road. There also is a 6,604-square-foot house in Sneads Ferry up for $1.8 million.
Brandon said many homeowners in the county have opted to rent out their houses — and that has driven down the rental rates overall.
Those rentals are available — not because people couldn’t sell their homes, he said — but because many were unwilling to reduce prices drastically lower than amounts they paid for the homes.
But do local buyers carry fears exhibited by buyers elsewhere shortly after the U.S. housing-market’s collapse?
Brandon said other factors are affecting decisions in Onslow County. Those factors could include service members’ perceptions of basic-allowance-for-housing rates.
“Military members are a little bit more reluctant to commit,” he said, adding that such caution is not common across the board.
“We’ve got so many people who, in early 2006, they had homes somewhere else they could not sell,” he said. “I know people are fearful.”
The area’s new construction, as he expected, is “the lowest it’s been in many, many years.”
“The answer is because it picked up in other areas,” he said. “Some builders that were taking advantage of opportunities in this area, when the chance arose for other areas to pick up in new construction sales, they left.”
Meaning: When other areas’ markets became prospects of greater profits, the builders left, he added.
Single-family-home sales have been rising throughout the last four years, he said.
“Since 2012, we’ve closed more homes each year than before,” Brandon said. “And I expect it to continue. Our foreclosures are down. They’ve been down year over year.”
He said homeowners hoping to recoup purchase prices are not immediately finding sales opportunities at those levels.
“The truth is, house values are still down if they bought at our peak, but sales are up,” Brandon said. “Yeah, this is a unique area.”