Mid-Atlantic
Topsail Beach, North Carolina looking north (Flickr)

Topsail tops list of U.S.’s most affordable beach communities

Realtor.com says barrier island offers great combination of affordability and sun-and-sand options

PENDER COUNTY -- Affordability is a relative term.

When word circulated through Topsail Island that Realtor.com had selected the barrier island -- shared by Pender and Onslow counties -- as the nation’s most affordable beach community in 2019, there were certainly some eyebrows raised.

According to Realtor.com, the median home price in Topsail Beach -- the price marking the point where half the homes are more expensive and half the homes are less expensive -- is a mere $198,000. But a search of Realtor.com’s own web site failed to turn up a single Topsail Beach home for $200,000 or less, though some undeveloped lots are available in that range. Finding property in that price range also was a challenge in Surf City and North Topsail Beach, the other two communities that share Topsail Island.

Lifelong Topsail resident Cory Sydes said that with places such as Figure Eight Island and Bald Head Island in the neighborhood, one could say that Topsail and Surf City are affordable. But that’s only comparatively speaking.

“I don’t think (Topsail Beach) is the cheapest place to live, by any stretch,” Sydes said last week, “but compared to what? Compared to California, it’s half the price. But it is very similar to Atlantic Beach, Morehead City, places like that. If you compare it to Bald Head and Figure Eight, where the prices are astronomical, then this looks like a deal.”

But, he added, thinking that the median price of homes in Surf City and Topsail is about $200,000 is preposterous. “No,” he said of the figure, “absolutely not. Lots are $200,000.”

There are residences -- quite a few of them, mostly condos and townhomes -- in nearby Holly Ridge that are in that range, but they hardly have the “ocean views” one would expect from a beach locale.

Still, it’s likely Holly Ridge that is driving the Realtor.com analysis, said Jill Pittman, president-elect of the Topsail Island Association of Realtors.

“It’s the way the ZIP Codes work here,” Pittman said. ”(Parts of) Surf City, Topsail and Holly Ridge share a ZIP code, and so Realtor.com probably runs its analysis by ZIP code.”

Officials on the islands have been working for years to get their own ZIP codes, heretofore without success.

2019′s Most Affordable Beach Towns
1) Jacksonville, N.C.
2) Aberdeen, Wash.
3) Atlantic City, N.J.
4) Myrtle Beach, S.C.
5) Palm Bay, Fla.
6) Port St. Lucie, Fla.
7) Virginia Beach, Va.
8) Salisbury, MD.
9) Morehead City, N.C.
10) Portland, Maine
Source: Realtor.com

Surf City Realtor Cathy Medlin said that anyone coming to this area to try and buy a $200,000 beachfront home is going to be disappointed. That said, Surf City and Topsail have so much going for them -- and they are economical.

“We are not the least expensive of all of them,” Medlin said of America’s beach towns, “but we are classified in with a lot of inland property ... that has nice little towns, but has homes on mainland lots that are 25 percent of the cost of a lot on the beach,” she said.

Realtor.com states that in its report, noting that the metro areas cited -- in this case Jacksonville -- aren’t necessarily on the ocean.

“It’s important to note that not all of the cities that anchor these metros are actually on the shore,” the report states. “But they all include at least one sweet beach area within their confines.”

In the Carolinas, Morehead City in Carteret County and Myrtle Beach, S.C., also made the cut.

In describing Topsail’s desirability, the report cites the area’s “long beach season here, stretching from late March through October, and excellent boating with large docks and deep channels.

“And it can be fairly cheap, too. It’s possible to find a four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom townhome with ocean views, right on the sand starting around $300,000. Or folks can go inland a block or two and save big bucks on a beach cottage.”

Go even farther inland and your dollar stretches even further -- as anyone who drives U.S. 17 through Hampstead will attest as the population continues to swell along Pender County’s coastal plain.

In 2018, the Census Bureau reported that Pender County grew 16.7% between 2010 and 2017, adding 8,741 residents. That followed an eye-popping 27.1% increase in population between 2000 and 2010.

Onslow County also saw its population jump 9.1 percent, adding 16,121 residents, between 2010 and 2017.

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