Beach abodes: Checking in on the coastal market

Jun 20, 2024 • 8 min. read | By Cece Nunn

Builders approached beachfront construction a little differently back in the day.


“The idea behind building a beach house was to not invest heavily in its construction, understanding that storms could easily destroy it. The intention was not to create the best-built structures since you didn’t want to have a significant amount of money tied up in something that might be taken down by a storm,” said Mark Batson, a Wilmington custom homebuilder specializing in luxury houses, including oceanfront properties. “Consequently, many of the homes we’re demolishing today, some of which are barely 30 years old, were never meant to endure. They’re simply falling apart.”


Batson, who owns Wilmington-based Tongue & Groove Design + Build, said he approaches building oceanfront homes as structures that will still exist in 100 to 200 years.


“These will last as long as they’re maintained. Our goal is to build houses that are worthy of preservation,” he said. “For the next generations that come along, I don’t want them walking into a Tongue & Groove house and wanting to tear it down. Instead, I want them to walk in and say, ‘OK, this is a good house. This is worthy of preservation.’”


While many oceanfront homeowners have the means to weather figurative and literal storms, facets of that ownership include rising prices, upkeep, storm threats, sea-level rise, insurance costs and the possibility that they might not be allowed to rebuild a destroyed house because of setback requirements.




The prices of oceanfront homes, particularly unique, contemporary properties, have increased in recent years. The buyers of the house at 10 Inlet Hook on Figure Eight Island set a record in 2023 when they paid $13 million for the property. The home was designed by architect David Lisle and built in 2022 by Whit Honeycutt, of North State Custom Builders.


Ransom and Courtney Langford, of Connecticut, purchased the nearly 5,000-square-foot home on the private New Hanover County island from John and Rebekah McConnell, of Raleigh.


According to real estate agents, that’s the highest sum paid for a house in recorded history in New Hanover County.


John McConnell, of McConnell Golf, purchased the lot for the custom home for $1.5 million in 2020.


Buzzy Northen, of Wilmington-based Intracoastal Realty Corp., represented the buyers in the transaction, while Jo El Skipper, of Figure Eight Realty, represented the sellers.


Real estate agents say it’s important to put recent eight-figure oceanfront sales in perspective.


7 Cowrie Lane in Wrightsville Beach (Photo c/o Realtor Peter Sweyer)

On Figure Eight Island and in Wrightsville Beach, homes selling for over $10 million “are all homes built in the last six years or homes with extremely rare features such as oversized lots,” said Trey Wallace, president of Intracoastal Realty, when the news broke about the $13 million deal. “While we have certainly seen a run-up in prices over the past three years, these new price thresholds are being met in combination with some of the first newly built ultra-luxury homes turning for the first time.”


Wallace pointed out that the home at 407 Bradley Creek Point, which sold for $5 million in November 2018, set a record.


“Only five years later, we are approaching new sales records of $13 million,” he said. “It is certainly an incredible new price scale for our region. There will be more sales like this, to be sure, but only the most ultra-luxurious and modern builds will be able to command these prices, in my opinion.”




Mark Batson, custom home builder and owner of Tongue & Groove Design + Build

Modern properties continue to reach new price heights. In Kure Beach, buyers this March paid $9.2 million for 901 Fort Fisher Blvd. – a record price for a home sale on Pleasure Island, which includes Kure and Carolina beaches.


The sale was for a double lot on the oceanfront holding a main house and guest house designed and built by Tongue & Groove.


Batson said both structures, built in 2021, have the same material palette, including cedar shingles and copper roofs, but they’re a little different architecturally.


Batson can understand the appeal of Pleasure Island, where he grew up working on his father’s fishing boat. 


In a LinkedIn post accompanying Batson’s announcement about the 901 Fort Fisher Blvd. sale Batson wrote, “Witnessing the evolution of our island communities over the decades has been a journey laden with nostalgia, pride and a sense of accomplishment. The metamorphosis from simple seasonal retreats to vibrant, year-round communities is a testament to the resilience, innovation, and spirit of those who, like my family, have called these beaches home.”




Peter Sweyer, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolina Premier Properties, doesn’t live on the oceanfront but does live in Wrightsville Beach.


“There is something magical about hearing those waves at night or when it’s dark and having that kind of force of the ocean near you is very soothing and calming for some people,” he said.


Sweyer helped the previous owners sell the oceanfront home at 7 Cowrie Lane in Wrightsville Beach in December. He said the property was on the market for 100 days but attracted interest from seven qualified buyers. The first folks who looked at it ended up buying the home.


According to Sweyer, the 5,700-square-foot home sits on nearly an acre, one of the largest oceanfront lots in Wrightsville Beach. The home has five bedrooms, six-and-a-half bathrooms, an oceanfront pool and a four-car garage. The transaction marked the first time the home had been sold; the seller purchased it while it was under construction and used it as a second home for 19 years.




Entrepreneurs Travis and Heather Sherry, who previously kept a home base in Pennsylvania, knew the risks and costs when they bought an oceanfront home in Carolina Beach during the pandemic.


They decided they could handle any issues that might come up.


“It feels like our own paradise here,” Travis Sherry said.


The couple bought the house at 1708 Carolina Beach Ave. N., within walking distance of Freeman Park, for $639,000 in August 2020. The 2,500-square-foot home feels like a beach bungalow.


“We’ve always really loved being near the water and going to the ocean,” Heather Sherry said. “And so, when we talked at length for years about our ideal place to live, it was always the beach.”


They wanted a house priced under $1 million and could be flexible with a location because they worked remotely before the pandemic began in March 2020.


“We had never actually been here or even heard of Carolina Beach or knew anyone here,” Travis Sherry said. “I was looking at real estate, and Carolina Beach was one of the more affordable places up and down the coast.”


The day they closed on the house in 2020, Hurricane Isaias was bearing down on the East Coast.


“We’re signing the papers at the lawyer’s office, and they’re like, ‘You’ve got to run over to town hall immediately because they’re closing at noon … and you need to get a re-entry decal because a hurricane is coming,’” Travis Sherry recalled.


Without the decal, it would be difficult to return to Pleasure Island after the storm if officials issued a mandatory evacuation order.


They lost power in the middle of the night, but crews restored it by 10 a.m.


“We had a few shingles missing from the roof, and that was it,” Travis Sherry said.


The couple is still able to get homeowners insurance on the property. For Carolina Beach, the N.C. Rate Bureau has requested a 99.4% increase in insurance rates for the beach areas of New Hanover – which includes Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville beaches – Brunswick, Pender, Onslow and Carteret counties. The state’s insurance commissioner has rejected the rate hike, and as of press time, a hearing on the request was scheduled for October.


Travis Sherry said no homeowner wants an increase, although the couple feels they can cover one.


“But at the same time,” he said, “I also feel fortunate that what’s happening in California and specifically Florida isn’t happening here where insurance companies are just pulling out completely, and you can’t get insurance.”


This story originally appeared in the WilmingtonBiz Magazine’s annual Residential Real Estate issue. Greater Wilmington Business Journal subscribers receive the quarterly WilmingtonBiz Magazine. To subscribe, go to

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