Editor’s Note: Each week, WRAL TechWire takes a deep dive into the Triangle’s real estate markets. This week, we take an in-depth look at the commercial and residential markets in Johnston County.
SMITHFIELD – Imagine, if you will, the fastest-growing county in North Carolina adding additional transportation infrastructure and greater access to transit routes. But that county, which is also the state’s largest county by geography, isn’t just adding only roads and railways, it’s increasing in population by about 4% each year.
That’s Johnston County. What might the region, and its municipalities, look like a decade from now?
“I like studying data and trends, and I kept looking at Raleigh, and having lived in Charlotte when it was growing, which was amazing, at the height of its growth, and it was booming,” said Kevin Dougherty, a partner at AdVenture Development, who lives in Johnston County.
Nearly two decades ago, when Dougherty was looking to move to North Carolina, he looked statewide. But he kept looking at and returning to the idea of living in and investing in Johnston County, he told WRAL TechWire. That’s ultimately where he and his family landed, and Dougherty decided to open his business office in downtown Selma and to live on property that had been in his wife’s family for generations.
That was in 2004, before housing markets nationwide crashed. Even during the Great Recession, Dougherty saw a resilient regional economy, driven by continued population growth and workforce growth.
People moved to Johnston County during, following prior recession
“The thing that I noticed in 2008-2009, is that Johnston County did not slow down, never stopped,” said Dougherty. “The county wasn’t as impacted, because people were still looking to move here.”
So coming out of the recessionary environment, Dougherty and his business partner decided to invest even more in the region.
“Having lived through the last recession, and seeing how Johnston County performed was very much an encouragement for us to place a larger bet on Johnston County and the future of Johnston County,” said Dougherty, whose development group is building out Eastfield Crossing in Selma, at the intersection of Interstate 95 and U.S. Highway 70.
But Dougherty isn’t the only person who has chosen to move into Johnston County, nor the only person who’s made a big bet on the county’s future growth. Far from it.
County, MSA a ‘net attractor’
Johnston County may be thought of as the core of North Carolina, said Chris Johnson, the director of Johnston County Economic Development. Though the county sits east of Wake County and Raleigh, it is a part of the Raleigh-Cary metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and is considered a part of the Triangle, as well.
And the Raleigh MSA, too, has been adding population, with a steady annual net migration gain of between 20,000-25,000 per year, according to Redfin’s deputy chief economist Taylor Marr, who spoke with WRAL TechWire about migration trends earlier this year.
Much of that growth is coming into Johnston County, which is growing at a pace of about 4% each year, based on the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“When I’m talking to industry, I note that we’re growing at about 4% annually, which means that we’re adding 8,000-10,000 people each year,” said Johnson.
That’s why Marr called the region a “net attractor” for migration and told WRAL TechWire that he is forecasting growth to continue.
Where will all these new residents moving to the Triangle live? Well, Johnston County sure seems a possibility, and the data on homebuilding permits in the county suggests that the builder industry sees opportunity in the region, as well, despite the recent decline in builder sentiment about homebuilding opportunity nationally.
New residential construction
“There’s greater affordability in Johnston County,” said Bill Smith, the current president of the Johnston County Building Industry Association and a licensed real estate agent with the Jim Allen Group. “And there are thousands of lots in the pipeline in Johnston County, with numerous lots being developed right now.”
Preliminary data from the Triangle Multiple Listing Service, TMLS, shows a year-over-year increase of new construction homes for sale in Johnston County of more than 160%, with 553 homes listed for sale at the end of September, as noted in the above embedded chart.
And homes in Johnston County are more affordable than those in Wake County and across the Triangle, too, as the latest data from TMLS shows that the median sale price for homes in Johnston County was $370,000 in September compared to $468,000 in Wake County and $402,000 Triangle-wide.
In Clayton, the Copper District could be between 300 and 900 home sites once completed, said Smith. That makes it one of the biggest communities that are planned for the county, right now, said Smith, adding that the community may soon be considered “the crown jewel of Clayton, the gateway for Clayton and for Johnston County.”
But it’s not just Clayton where new residential development is expected, Smith said. There are also projects in Smithfield, Angier, Archer Lodge, and Kenly, noted Smith. “These areas have grown consistently, with Kenly as a new area that is up-and-coming,” said Smith.
That’s even as nationally, builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes dropped eight points in October to 38, according to a report released last Tuesday, the lowest point since 2012 with the exception of the spring of 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
“The permits that were pulled in 2021 was 2,360,”said Smith. “This year, thus far, there are about 1,960, and we are estimating between 2,100-2,200.”
Despite a seasonal ebb and flow, and the current economic climate, noted Smith, “builders are still very bullish on Johnston County.”
Primed for growth
That growth is still projected to continue, one reason that builders are eyeing land in Johnston County for development. And with even more people that consider locating in the region, once two major transportation projects are completed, the area is primed for major growth in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, said Smith.
Johnson told WRAL TechWire the same, noting that the county is primed for ongoing growth and development.
“Everything that I’ve been saying, all the things that we’ve been ‘selling’ in the region, RTP, the airport, the amenities,” said Johnson. “All of that is going to be 15 minutes closer with the construction of the 540 loop.”
And those transit corridors will be critical infrastructure for the continued growth and economic development in Johnston County, said Johnson.
WRAL TechWire reporter Jason Parker, the author of the report and a licensed real estate agent in North Carolina, works with journalists from WRAL.com to track and present market data and report on how people are experiencing the region’s changing real estate markets. These special reports will use the category tag “Triangle Real Estate” or “Triangle Real Estate Market.”