Contractors are building several new single-family homes in subdivisions across the City of Lenoir, and one local company is building new spec homes for the first time in more than a decade.
Single-family home permits have increased in Lenoir over the past few years. Owners and developers are currently building new homes in Georgetown Estates, Parkview, Powell Park, and Summerhill subdivisions in Lenoir. These are four of nine subdivisions in the City that are already served by utilities. Vacant lots are still available in all of them.
John Moore, owner of Brushy Mountain Builders, is building new spec homes in the Parkview subdivision. Moore said developers today have to overcome a lot of obstacles to build spec homes. Plus, the return on investment isn't what it used to be. However, Moore said there is a lot of demand for new housing in Lenoir.
"The biggest challenge is that banks are not lending money to speculative builders, period. You have to be self-financed or have a backer to build spec homes," Moore said. "But I’m optimistic. There is such a need, and interest rates are so low, I think this will be a good venture."
Moore is building two spec homes in Parkview. He's waiting on materials to finish them out, which is one more hurdle to overcome. Once those houses sell, Moore plans to build two more in Parkview and so on. To help attract residents into Parkview and draw more new homes that the community needs, the City is expanding the greenway into the subdivision.
"I want to get something started and help build momentum in the City," Moore said. "There’s a huge demand for new houses. The City is helping tremendously by connecting the greenway to our development, which will give our homeowners easy access. I think that will be a great amenity for this development."
City Council has asked staff to find ways to entice developers and owners to build new, market-rate housing for several years. In 2019, the Caldwell County EDC commissioned the UNC School of Government Development Finance Initiative to study housing needs in Caldwell. The study reported what Moore and other local officials knew - the demand for new housing is high in Lenoir and Caldwell County. That same year, City of Lenoir staff created the Residential Ready to Build page on the City's website. The page lists several subdivisions in the city that are served by utilities and have lots ready to build.
"The Residential Ready to Build page has been very helpful," City Manager Scott Hildebran said. "When I get calls from prospective home buyers or developers, I can send them to that page on our website. They can quickly find subdivisions with vacant lots which already have completed infrastructure such as streets, lighting, water and sewer, etc., and contact information on who they can call."
In addition to high demand, there are more than 5,500 people commuting into Lenoir, according to 2018 US Census data. Some of those commuters might decide to live in Lenoir, too, if they could find homes.
"If we could capture just one percent of those commuters, that could mean 55 new single-family homes in the city," Moore said.
Caldwell County Economic Development Director Deborah Murray said the new housing under construction in Lenoir will help attract businesses into the city.
"I’m thrilled to see the development happening now. We haven’t built any market-rate housing and seen it fill up in 30-40 years, but that's starting to change," Murray said. "In 2020, for the first time since 2007, our housing permits in Caldwell County surpassed the 2007 peak. Regardless of the price of a house, everything is flying off the shelf, once the 'for sale' sign goes up."
Murray said the average private sector wage in Caldwell County has grown by 30% in the past five years and plenty of businesses are interested in expanding or locating in Lenoir. The county's unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in January, according to state data. Murray said there were 33,950 people working in Caldwell County in January 2021, which is close to pre-pandemic employment numbers.
Wage growth and job opportunities will attract more people into Lenoir and Caldwell, which will attract new businesses, Murray said. But it's important that local leaders and investors keep working to increase market-rate housing stock to keep up with new demand.
"Caldwell County is growing, and we need to keep up with that growth and attract new businesses," Murray said. "We're finally at a place where developers are building single-family spec homes and market-rate apartments. When the Blue Bell apartments are finished, that'll be 46 market-rate units we can look forward to filling up. We have companies looking to expand, and I'm sure developers will be able to rent or sell anything they want to build."
Note: This is the third part of a three-part series on housing in Lenoir. Click the links below to read Part 1 and Part 2.
John Moore, owner of Brushy Mountain Builders, is building new spec homes in the Parkview subdivision located off Zacks Fork Road in Lenoir. Workers are currently putting stone face on the house on the left.
This house under construction in Powell Park is across the street and creek from the city greenway.
This home is under construction in the Summerhill subdivision off Harrisburg Drive.
The Residential Ready to Build map shows nine subdivisions in Lenoir that are already served by utilities.