Surf City, Topsail and North Topsail Beach are expected to double in population by the year 2020 — growth expected to significantly impact the small towns.

But plans to address the changes and related challenges are already underway, something that was shared at the annual Real Estate Trends Report and Forecast Breakfast for the Treasure Coast Region held Thursday at the Surf City Community Center.

Real estate agents and others with a vested interest gathered to listen to a group of speakers discuss the projected changes in not only population and demographics within the increased populations, but also how real estate and the towns would be affected.

Housing market

The expansive and quick growth can be attributed to the additional media attention areas like Topsail Island have been receiving, Ward Realty’s Residential and Investment Sale Broker John Toler said.

The changes have started shifting what the real estate market looks like in terms of selling prices and inventory available, he said.

“I’ve been told that Topsail is the best kept secret of beach towns,” he said. “The secret’s out.”

Toler said that the buying trend was up, as was the selling price of properties — something predicted to continue climbing into the future.

This may mean that while inventory may be lower than previous years, it is because things are selling, and the market is competitive.

“It is not a seller’s market because of homes selling much closer to asking price, but it isn’t a buyer’s market either because the inventory is lower,” he said. “We’re hoping as realtors this will continue and inventory will come up so we can continue to fulfill those needs for our buyers.”

Vacation rentals

Piggy-backing on Toler’s presentation of Topsail’s increasing visibility as a vacation destination, Ward Realty’s Vice President Brandon Ward explained that the face of vacation rentals has changed since the company first started in this market in the 1950s.

Rental homes in Topsail range anywhere from $1,500 to $6,500 a week, a far cry from the $85 a week one staple home in the company’s collection went for in 1950, Ward said.

The increase in weekly rates, almost 25 percent since 2006, is being driven by more families wanting to come to the island, he said.

“People continue to discover us,” Ward said. “We are attracting families who can come here and reconnect and relax.”

Ward said families choose rental homes for vacation stays over hotels because of the ease of reconnection encouraged by the kitchens and the extra space to spread out and enjoy each other.

Ward explained that vacationers to North Carolina are looking to visit family or friends, spend time at the beach, enjoy fine dining and shop.

“You can do all of those things here,” he said.

With tourism being at the forefront of Topsail’s economy, Ward said that collaboration and a continued dedication to the experience of vacationers will only be more important as Topsail continues to be discovered.

Water and weather

Vice President for Commercial Realty at Ward Realty Brad Humrighouse said the industrial market in the area was going strong with vacancy rates down from previous years. Apartment and retail vacancies were also down and the availability for supply was continuing to grow.

In Onslow and Pender counties, farm land, city development, Camp Lejeune-New River and forest land take up the majority of the space available for new residents, Humrighouse said.

“There really is nowhere in the county to go, so they are predicted to come to the coast,” he said.

Two major factors of that population influx come into effect: water and weather.

The availability of water encourages both people and industries to move into the area, he said.

The area in focus at the meeting is temperate and more attractive than the hotter central part of the United States, Humrighouse said.

Key factors to preparing for the population inflation depends on three things: food, water and green space, he said.

Preserving and expanding agricultural land must be a focus as well as enhancing and preserving water supplies, Humrighouse said.

“There need to be new water collection systems integrated and reservoirs built to accommodate a new water supply,” he said.

Humrighouse also said that new construction such as Dixon Middle School, the new Hampton Inn in Sneads Ferry and the Camp Davis Industrial Park, must consider weather in its development, accounting for things like 80 mph winds that can drastically affect residences and buildings.

Surf City’s future

Surf City saw a “boom” between 2000 and 2010 — and it seems to be gearing up for another.

Surf City Planning Director Todd Rademacher said the area will see growth across the board including schools, retail projects, roadways and housing developments.

Coterra Development, which has the potential to accommodate 3,000 homes, has been planned, Rademacher said, with a 90-acre portion of it finalized.

A large complex of just under 13,000 square feet of retail space will also help accommodate the projected increased population, with main access points at N.C. 50 and rights of way in and out at N.C. 210.

A combination middle and elementary school at a total of 164,000 square feet is also in the town’s future.

All of this means transportation will be a challenge.

“We are trying to get funding for the 210 widening project,” Rademacher said.

Places of focus will also be on U.S. 17 and N.C. 50 alternate.

Keeping the water and sewer at pace with the growth will also pose a challenge, Rademacher said. Expanding and maintenance require funding that will need to be generated.

The expansion of Surf City and the changes on the horizon also open many opportunities for Surf City.

As a regional hub between Wilmington and Jacksonville, becoming a business campus where people can both live and work, partnership with private and public entities all offer potentials, Rademacher said.

“We want to create a community that people can work and place in now and in the future,” Rademacher said. “There are a lot of good things happening now.”