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Explosive growth

A year ago, Brunswick County didn't make the Census Bureau's top 100 list for growth. This year, for population growth between July 1, 2004 and July 1, 2005, the county came in at 29th in the United States with a 5.4 percent population increase. Some experts expect the county to move up on that list.

Builders see Brunswick County as the next promised land.

The development hot spot is the nation's 29th fastest-growing county, according to new Census numbers.

And the number of building permits pulled in Brunswick nearly doubled in 2005 from the year before, according to Market Opportunity Research Enterprises.

That's attracted the attention of the Grand Strand's big builders.

Centex Homes, D.R. Horton and Bill Clark Homes have been building in Brunswick County for several years, but more national builders - including 26th-ranked Portrait Homes and 3rd-ranked Lennar Corp. - are moving in as well as a host of smaller builders.

D.R. Horton has been selling in Brunswick for about a year at The Farm at Brunswick, an 805-unit development of single family and townhomes.

Doug Brown, D.R. Horton's coastal Carolina division president, said the company is always looking for new opportunities in Brunswick.

Portrait Homes will build townhomes and single family homes on the former Calabash Golf Links.

"The market seems to be moving that way. Land prices in Horry County are getting rather high and it's hard to find anything in Pawleys or Litchfield," said David Trimmer, Myrtle Beach division president of Portrait Homes. "We're trying to get in on a piece of the action like everyone else."

Finding available land these days means either going west or north because south of Georgetown there are conservation areas, said Lawrence Langdale, president of Thrive Horry County and vice president of Coldwell Banker Chicora Development.

That makes Brunswick enticing because builders can buy land within a 10-minute drive to the ocean and close to town centers, Langdale said.

"There's still a lot of property there that's close to accessing the ocean. You don't have to live so far away. We're pushing a 20-minute boundary to the beach [in Horry County]," said Langdale, whose company recently bought land in Brunswick.

Builders say Brunswick planners and county officials also seem to be more receptive about development and in some cases are less restrictive than Horry County.

Higher home prices

Average home prices have consistently been higher in Brunswick County than Horry County.

Last year, the average price for single family homes in Brunswick broke $300,000 - a mark Horry County hasn't passed.

Cathy Six, new homes director for Coldwell Banker Sloan Realty in Sunset Beach, said 35- and 60-foot height limits have kept higher buildings out and made the Brunswick area attractive to homebuyers. Six handles sales for small builders in the south Brunswick Isles.

"People are shocked at our prices. Our condo prices tend to be higher than Myrtle Beach," Six said.

But that hasn't slowed sales. Six sold 54 waterfront condos in three weeks.

"We haven't seen that slowdown that they're seeing in Horry County," she said. "Average price didn't increase that much for single family but it did quite a bit for condos."

First quarter sales are up in Brunswick.

Homes and condo sales jumped 12 percent to 1,406 homes compared with the same period last year, according to Market Opportunity Research Enterprises.

Total sales in Horry County are also up 8 percent for the first quarter from 4,622 to 5,021, but resale condo sales declined 26 percent to 1,348.

Beth Suggs, president of the Brunswick County Association of Realtors, said Brunswick felt some slowdown in the first quarter, but the second quarter has picked up.

Prices, too, have increased.

The first quarter 2006 average price for new condos in Brunswick was $292,993, an increase of 21 percent from $241,641 last year.

New single family homes' average price only increased one percent to $243,934 from $241,810.

Tempting talent

Eyeing the burgeoning market, real estate attorney Shep Guyton said he's looking at opening an office in Brunswick County in addition to his Myrtle Beach office.

"Their growth doesn't appear to be slowing down at all. There's more price jumps up there," Guyton said.

The board of Realtors is also growing. Membership has increased from 488 agents two years ago to 1,300.

The Grand Strand's largest builder, Centex Homes, has several pieces of land under contract in Brunswick, which would add to the company's three communities currently selling in the area.

"Our market research says there's strong demand to live in Brunswick County. It's certainly an area that we're looking to continue to build in for a long time," said Ken Balogh, Myrtle Beach division president for Centex.

Developer Dock Street Communities, which builds live/work townhomes, expanded into Brunswick because of its beauty.

"We felt like Sunset, with its pristine quality of beaches and lack of congestion, gave people an alternative. You can be close to all the action but get away from it," said Sam Burns, Dock Street president.

Real estate folks and builders say Brunswick still has a lot of room to grow. Some even expect it to climb higher in the Census's 100 fastest-growing county rankings.

A year ago, it didn't make the top 100 list. This year, for population growth between July 1, 2004 and July 1, 2005, the county came in at 29th in the Unites States with a 5.4 percent population increase.

Horry County also made the list - checking in as the 67th fastest-growing county in the nation.

"I actually believe that it [Brunswick County] will move up that list," said David Sandifer, commissioners chairman and owner of Holden Beach Properties. "There's a massive amount of development and rezoning that we are doing. It's mind blowing."

Sandifer expects Brunswick to become the bedroom community to Horry and New Hanover counties - where residents can escape the busy life, but be close to the entertainment of Wilmington and Myrtle Beach.

"So far we've been able to resist most of the bells and whistles. They don't have to live there. They can go to a laid-back place to live," Sandifer said.