Here it comes; we better be ready
“Both the median sales price ($325,000) and the average sales price ($379,003) rose 26.5 percent and 20.3 percent year-over-year respectively [in Haywood County], while the average list price rose 21.4 percent compared to last year, to $429,042.”
We are at one of those tipping points in the mountain region, a time when locals, recent transplants, part-time residents and those looking to move here are all looking around and trying to comprehend the seemingly rapid growth, the escalating prices, and how this is going to affect their own lives and this place we call home.
We wrote a story last week about Wall Street Books, which has been a Waynesville mainstay for 28 years. The building it calls home has recently been sold, and so the bookstore owners have been told they need to pack up their 50,000 books and find a new home over the next few months.
To call that news unsettling for the bookstore owners is an understatement, but it’s the same feeling many who live and work around Western North Carolina are feeling. And it’s not just rents that are going up.
The paragraph at the beginning of this column is from the multiple listing service used by all real estate professionals in Haywood County. Average home prices have risen more than 21 percent in just a single year. That kind of increase prices more and more people out of a market that two years ago was already in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.
In Waynesville alone, there are plans for about 800 new single-family homes, townhouses, condos and apartments to be built over the next couple of years. That doesn’t account for the custom building one sees as they drive around town.
It also doesn’t include all the building occurring throughout the rest of Haywood County and the entire region. Every county in this newspaper’s distribution area — Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Buncombe — had record tourism numbers in 2020, a trend that has continued in 2021. As the pandemic turned people away from large cities, WNC became a wonderful alternative. As we who call this place home know all too well, often those vacations to these mountains turn into a love affair and a desire to eventually move here.
For those of us already here, it’s obvious why folks are coming: if you want to escape the storm-ravaged coastal areas, the infernos burning out West or the drought-stricken stretches of the Great Plains, well, Western North Carolina and its four distinct seasons, mountains, and relatively mild weather looks like a pretty damn good alternative.
All this activity is pumping a lot of money into the economy, that’s for sure. But it’s also leading many to worry that the very reason they love mountain communities like Waynesville — its charm, small-town feel, unique personality — will be lost in the frenzy of development.
I just don’t think that’s going to happen. Waynesville has strong development ordinances to guide the coming growth. Developers of all the homes and apartments must follow these rules, and town staff is doing its part to make sure this happens.
Way back in 2007, when that real estate boom was happening, we heard many of the same sentiments. Towns and counties throughout the region, for the most part, bit the bullet and established strong guidelines. Here’s a quote from a column I wrote in August of that year: “Last week Jackson County commissioners passed what is being called the strongest set of development regulations in North Carolina. They’ve set a standard for other counties to follow, and we think they’ve accomplished this in a manner that won’t hurt the home-building industry that has become so important to Western North Carolina.”
We need housing in the region west of Asheville. The rental market has always been tight and places hard to find. None of this new development directly addresses the affordable housing crisis, but that’s an important issue our communities can’t ignore forever.
The reality is we can’t pull up the ladder or lock the gate and keep people from coming to the mountains. No, the best we can hope for is an engaged citizenry, thoughtful elected leaders and rules and regulations that encourage smart growth that avoids sprawl and all the problems associated with it.
Leave a comment
Congratulations on a fine article. I too worry about our small community and the increasing prices for housing. Has to be a downer for the young families trying to buy and start a family in WNC
Scott--There is unfortunately an exception to your "I don't think that's going to happen" comment about rampant development in WNC. Swain County, unlike its neighbors, does not have much at all in the way of needed protection and perhaps even less in the way of regulations controlling existing structures/activities/buildings. Anyone who doubts that needs do no more than drive along old Highway 19 from Darnell Farms to Bryson City or, even worse, take a little side detour on Carringer Street along the way. I'm a native of the region and thanks to decades of lack of foresight and vision among local leaders, and that continues today in a major way, the county has eyesores aplenty and precious little control on development.
Well said! Bravo!