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Strand land sales tougher to make than a year ago

You may have noticed signs sprouting along the Grand Strand advertising land for sale - a sight rarely seen a year ago.

At that time, landowners were getting knocks on their doors with offers. Today, they're posting signs, hiring real estate agents and may have to lower their prices.

So far, agents say land prices have held steady, but a growing amount of land on the market could mean those may drop, following the trend of the residential market.

"The land prices have not dropped. I see a lot of new land purchases not taking place right now," said Greg Harrelson, president of Century 21 The Harrelson Group and the developer of a new 73-acre riverfront community off S.C. 90 called Rivers Edge Plantation. "I anticipate they will drop. The landowners are remembering their next door neighbor who sold for X amount of dollars per acre. He's going to get less than that and he doesn't want to get less, but no one is coming around."

Prices have not dropped on land, but

they have stabilized, said Craig Dierksheide, who calls himself the "Grand Strand Land Man" as a commercial agent for Coldwell Banker Chicora.

He said prices used to increase about $5,000 a month per acre a year ago, but now buyers are looking at tracts closer in to the ocean than before.

"Now that things have slowed, there's a lot of farmers that wished they'd sold last year. There's a lot of guys that bought land to flip it that wished they probably hadn't. Builders are selling less homes. The market has definitely changed. I tell sellers that its a price-driven market," he said.

Large homebuilders backing out of contracts is creating larger inventory that Dierksheide says will need to be bought up - making it a good time to be a land buyer.

He says demand is still there because Myrtle Beach is still a prime spot for relocators looking for value on the coast.

"The cycle just has to work its way through," he said.

New RiverGrand investor

The former Bay Tree Golf Plantation in Little River is still on track to become the high-end neighborhood RiverGrand, but the developer will no longer be Centex Homes.

Centex says it has signed an agreement with Wakefield Development Co., a large developer of high-end exclusive neighborhoods in the Carolinas, to become the lead developer on the project, with Centex as the builder.

Wakefield was the group that originally closed on the property back in May, and Centex was under contract with them, said Ken Balogh, president of the Myrtle Beach division of Centex Homes.

While Centex had intended to be the primary developer, Balogh said the companies decided to share the investment burden, considering today's market pressures.

"It's an enormous project. Our primary expertise has always been home building," Balogh said.

Wakefield's expertise is high-end development, Balogh said, so the change made a good partnership.

"It's an opportunity for us to get some help with a project of this size," he said.

Balogh said the plans for RiverGrand will remain the same as Centex announced in September: 900 homes with a town center, six-acre park, and outdoor amphitheater. The town center will have eateries and retail shops on the first floor with condos on the top floors, and a 275-unit retirement center and shopping center.

Land development at RiverGrand is expected to begin later this spring with home sales by Centex scheduled to start in late summer.