Saturday, April 2, 2011

Horry County has real estate lots to choose from

Prospective homeowners looking to build a new place won't have a problem finding a spot to do it in Horry County, where there are nearly 18,000 lots ready for a house.

There are 17,963 lots with the water and sewer systems in place in Horry County, according to Site Tech Systems, a local company that tracks the real estate market. The 29579 ZIP code, which is the Carolina Forest area, had more available lots - 4,425 - than any other area in the county.

The abundance of lots is hard on developers who are making payments on land they expected to have sold, but it does provide abundant opportunities for those who want to build, said Harry Dill, the president of the Horry-Georgetown Homebuilders Association.

"It's good news for builders," he said. "When we do beginrecovery it won't be such a long period between when the contract is written and you go and pull the permit."

Dill, who is a Partner of Sterling Homes, said at the peak, his company couldn't develop lots at Waterford Plantation fast enough to keep up with the demand at the peak.

In 2006, Horry County issued 6,484 building permits for single-family houses, compared to 975 issued last year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Construction isn't likely to pick up to the levels at the peak but, Dill said, the industry will come back. It's just a matter of when.
Until then, the costs of having to hold onto land can be quite a burden to some builders and developers, Dill said.

Some developers or builders have buckled under the pressure, and the monthly foreclosure listings are proof that many haven't been able to keep up with payments.

In some cases, banks have swiftly made deals to sell property to another builder - as was the case with the West Ridge subdivision and Parmelee, which D.R. Horton bought after foreclosure last year.

Other properties - and homeowners - haven't been as lucky. Residents of Midtown Village in Conway, a former Portrait Homes development, are still in limbo as promises made weren't kept and half-built properties were abandoned when the developer went under.

In other developments, such as The Boardwalk on the Waterway, all the lots were sold even before the land was developed, but when the market crashed owners were hesitant to build. The Boardwalk on the Waterway, a development near Fantasy Harbour on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway, sat mostly empty for about three years and had many lots go into foreclosure until last year when a few homes were finally built.

Existing lots are selling at steep discounts as some of the developers or owners try to unload them, which could drive down prices overall, even for existing houses, said Tom Maeser, a real estate analyst with the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors. Some foreclosed lots are selling at fractions of the original prices a few years ago.

There will be a need for those lots though, because the market needs a mix of used and new properties and isn't oversupplied now, Maeser said.

Some builders purposely keep lots ready to build, like Lennar Corp. in Myrtle Beach, which prepared all the lots in its Emmens Preserve community before it opened.

The lots are being made available in phases. Susan Martin, the director of sales and marketing for Lennar, said there is about a four-year supply of lots at the development, including those in phases that haven't opened yet.

"For us we actually need this many home sites on the ground to be able to produce the home sales that we want to produce," Martin said.

John Stillwagon, the owner of Terra Properties, Inc. and a local developer, said he's trying to be patient with the lots he owns and has reduced prices to prompt sales.

"It is definitely a burden," he said. "There is a lot of people that are owners of small developed pieces of property who are sitting with product and each month there are that many more that are thinner financially that could ultimately be in harms way."

Stillwagon said he'll be able to make it but has had to switch gears on some properties. On one development, Longview, he's decided to try to build affordable multi-family housing instead of the single-family homes he had planned.

That project is waiting on financing, which is a huge obstacle, especially for small builders and developers, Stillwagon said.
"I just have to ... have confidence in that change will come and we will be able to meet the need when the time comes," he said.

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