Housing recovery hits home in the Myrtle Beach area

Contractors work on the roof of one of the many new homes being built in the Emmens Preserve in The Market Common area of Myrtle Beach. New home construction is on the rise in the Myrtle Beach area.
Contractors work on the roof of one of the many new homes being built in the Emmens Preserve in The Market Common area of Myrtle Beach. New home construction is on the rise in the Myrtle Beach area.

Horry County and the Grand Strand are seeing an influx of interest from builders, as building permits reach levels not seen since before the housing bubble.

Rob Salvino, an assistant professor of economics at Coastal Carolina University, tracks development across Horry County by tallying new building permits for single-family homes each month. Salvino said the pace of permitting suggests a complete recovery.

“There are just developments going in all across the county,” Salvino said.

There are just developments going in all across the county.

Rob Salvino, Coastal Carolina University

Since about 2012, he said, building has been climbing back at a steady pace, faster than across the state and country. The housing market along the strand is highly dependent on retirees and second-home owners.

Now, permits are at a level that couldn’t get much higher — unless people start snapping up houses to make a quick buck, which happened before the bubble. At the heights just before the housing crash, Salvino said, permits per month reached 800, double the current rate.

“Now, it’s not as if everyone and their brother are snapping up houses,” Salvino said. “It’s a very different type of phenomenon.”

Currently, there are between 300 and 400 building permits for single-family homes filed in the county each month, Salvino said. “If we got much higher, I would question if we were becoming overbuilt, based on the current demand.”

‘Their own four walls’

Planners and developers across the Grand Strand agreed that single-family homes are dominating the slate of new building. “Single-family is, right now, all the rage,” said Carol Coleman, director of planning for the city of Myrtle Beach.

“Some of it is (buyers) like to have their own four walls,” she said. “They like to own something.”

[Buyers] like to have their own four walls. They like to own something.

Carol Coleman, Myrtle Beach director of planning

Single-family homes cost less to insure, don’t bring problems that might be common in a Homeowner’s Association and attract a more realistic buyer, Coleman said. A $150,000 townhouse, likely intended as a first foray into home ownership for a young professional, would be prohibitive for that same buyer because most lenders now require 20 percent down payments across the board. The retirees that often relocate to the area can likely afford a more expensive home.

David Wilkes, a vice president at Dock Street Communities, said he thought that historically low interest rates also were encouraging people to buy bigger.

“People have more purchasing power,” he said. “If you pay a $1,500 mortgage each month, you can probably afford a $300,000 house.”

Multifamily projects, condos and attached townhouses, however, are far less popular among developers, and few builders said they had multifamily projects in process.

We’ll sell probably six single-family houses for one multifamily unit.

David Wilkes, vice president at Dock Street Homes

Wilkes said his company will finish out a townhouse project it began before the recession. St. James Place, a development at 38th Avenue North and Robert Grissom Parkway, will be the site to 30 new townhouses, bringing the total count of units in the development to 80.

He said the market for multifamily is “coming back. We’ll sell probably six single-family houses for one multifamily unit.”

Big and small in North Myrtle Beach

North Myrtle Beach has seen a slew of new projects lately, many of them on land that had to be incorporated into the city before building began.

Grande Dunes North, immediately adjacent to the original Grande Dunes near the city limits of Myrtle Beach, was recently greenlighted by the city after a land annexation. Combined with the nearby Waterside development, the city will soon see more than 1,000 new single-family homes.

But a smaller project near North Myrtle Beach’s downtown is bucking certain building trends. The project, located between Main Street and First Avenue South, will include 26 townhouses and 20 condominium units. City spokesman Pat Dowling said that the parcel, which is relatively small, requires more density than some of the larger housing developments.

The project’s development plan will come before city council again on Aug. 15.

As the city and surrounding development grows, limited public resources along the shoreline become more stressed, Dowling said. North Myrtle Beach has one remedy though — planned development districts, like the one that will bring townhouses and condos to Main Street, give builders more flexibility in exchange for requiring them to contribute money for public benefit, according to Planning Director Jim Wood. “Public benefit” could include infrastructure projects.

The city asks for $1,100 per residential unit in a PDD on average, Wood said.

“The city is pursuing beach parking very aggressively right now,” Wood said.

The Market Common remains strong

The Market Common, a longtime favorite among developers for its dense entertainment and shopping options, still remains a draw for new construction as builders fill out the land that once was the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.

Dock Street is finishing a project around the area that will bring 10 townhouses on-line.

But other developers have eyed larger swaths of land for freestanding houses. CalAtlantic Homes, the fourth-largest developer in the country, recently trained its focus on the land surrounding the urban village.

The company opened Withers Preserve, 42 freestanding homes, in May. Don McDonough, a division president for the company, said ease of access to the beach and leisure options around The Market Common are attractive to retirees.

Twelve of the 42 homes in Withers Preserve have sold since it opened in May

“The lifestyle and the entertainment stuff carries a little more weight than it does in a place — even more than in a place like Charleston, where a high percentage of folks are interested in where dad goes to work and where the kids go to school,” McDonough said.

The homes in Withers Preserve are one level, and many include extra space for visiting family or friends. McDonough said 12 of the 42 lots have sold.

National developer eyes south strand

CalAtlantic has focused most of its efforts so far at the south end of the Grand Strand, mostly because those projects are easier to manage from a regional home base in Charleston, McDonough said.

Another development, Wilderness Point, is located on the west side of U.S. 17, near Murrells Inlet. McDonough said the “cottage-style homes with a drive-under garage and open floor plan” are attractive to customers who want a little separation from the hustle and bustle of places like downtown Myrtle Beach or The Market Common.

Located near TPC Myrtle Beach golf course, this 138-unit development opened six months ago and is more focused on nature. About 40 of the units already have sold.

CalAtlantic has long had developments near Murrells Inlet and Pawley’s Island, because they are easier to manage from its Charleston office.

“When you go in, you drive past fairways and lagoons and all the beautiful things you see with a golf course,” McDonough said. “But once you get out of there, it’s really easy to get to the things you want to do.”

CalAtlantic and Dock Street both said they expect to continue building single-family homes along the strand.

“There’s a long runway for affordable retirement in Myrtle Beach,” McDonough said. “We’re looking to put more lots on the ground.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJohnson