Writing and research by Amanda Lisk and Tammy Pope
Photography by Raul Sojo Montes
New Hanover County
“Over the past four years our business has more than doubled.”
– Mark Batson, owner and founder of nationally acclaimed Tongue & Groove Design + Build firm for custom, waterfront properties
Population Growth for New Hanover County
New Hanover County residents earning $200,000 or more
2010: 3.9% of the population
2019: 6.9% of the population
Single Family New Home Construction Building Permits issued in New Hanover County
Winner of more than 50 local and national awards for jaw-dropping innovation in home design, including Best of Houzz Design, HGTV’s Designer of the Year finalist, National Home Builders Association’s Custom Home Builder of the Year finalist and seven Gold awards with the Parade of Homes, Tongue & Groove Design + Build firm owner Mark Batson has been busy keeping up with an increasing demand for comfortable yet incredible waterfront luxury.
“Our brand promise is we never compromise quality or coolness. You know it when you see it—that’s where those cool designs come from,” says Batson. “I’m not going to do it unless it’s done well and it’s done awesome.”
Tongue & Groove’s designed and built homes hit a record high in New Hanover County property sales in 2017 and 2018 and achieved a record-breaking real estate transaction with the sale of “Downton Abbey,” a T&G built, Normandy inspired estate named for its kitchen hutch, which was brought in from the very castle where “Downton Abbey” was filmed.
“Over the past four years, our business has more than doubled,” says Batson, who is also acting agent with Landmark Sotheby’s International Realty. According to the U.S. Census, Batson’s client base has doubled as well. The number of people living in New Hanover County who earn $200,000 or more jumped from 3.9% of the population in 2010 to 6.9% in 2018.
Batson grew up in Carolina Beach and later majored in history at UNCW. “College Road was just a two-lane road when I was in grade school,” he recalls. “Seeing all of the buildings going up downtown and the waterfront being developed is amazing and exciting to me. I still feel like this is a small town; it’s still a hidden secret that’s not really a hidden secret,” he laughs.
Specializing in custom built waterfront properties, Batson’s use of maritime touches such as porthole windows, frameless all-glass deck handrails and mahogany accents have become signature Tongue & Groove. Intertwining his craftsmanship, art and a love of history and the coast, Batson puts family at the center of every home he builds.
“A home is not about the structure itself; it’s a story about the family. It’s really about enabling families to spend more time together,” says Batson.
While most luxury waterfront homes are for onlookers to admire from afar, Batson believes in inviting people to come and see. He put his very own Lee’s Cut home on the Parade of Homes tour in 2012 where it won gold. Doing much of the work himself, including fabricating and shaping the stainless-steel handrail system and sculpting undersea scenes with dolphins and whales, the home is affectionately named “32” for its address and is where the Batson family of five resides.
What’s next for Batson?
A new era of Tongue & Groove design entitled “Yacht Modern” is rolling out, which will use more durable materials similar to those used for yachts to make waterfront homes much easier to maintain.
“We still have mountains to climb and goals to be realized,” Batson remarks. “We will continue to strive to be the best and build homes worthy of preservation.”
“It’s night and day the changes and the growth we’ve seen here in Pender County. Neighborhoods like Pecan Grove Plantation have drawn people in.”
– Lisa Mathews, RE/MAX Certified Residential Specialist/ Broker, listing agent for 63 new lots at Pecan Grove Plantation
For the first time in over a decade, a premier Hampstead waterfront community is opening a new section of land to homebuyers. Pecan Grove Plantation, located along the Intracoastal Waterway off of Sloop Point Loop Road in Pender County, will release 63 lots in phase six of the development for custom built homes. The first 24 lots will be available for purchase this spring and will be offered on a first come, first serve basis, says Lisa Mathews, RE/MAX certified residential specialist and Pecan Grove Plantation phase six listing agent who is expecting the lots to go fast.
“There are not many areas that compare to Pecan Grove because we have larger lots, deep water boat ramp access as well as a pier and gazebo for paddle boarding, kayaking or simply watching the boats go by. Also, Pecan Grove is conveniently located by Sloop Point Loop Marina which offers dry stack storage,” says Mathews.
The lot sizes are a rare find, ranging from a half acre to 1.2 acres. The expansion of Pecan Grove Plantation is in direct response to the incredible growth Pender County is experiencing. More than 10,000 new residents have moved into Pender County between 2010 and 2018. Many of these new residents are coming from other states and are looking to enjoy an authentic, coastal lifestyle in a neighborhood with water access.
“Whenever you have people coming here for the same reasons that you love it, you have to say, wow we really have something here,” Mathews says.
Named for its southern pecan trees that line the front entry gates, Pecan Grove Plantation provides a full amenity resort-like experience with an Olympic size pool, lighted tennis courts, a fitness center, game room, playground for the kids, sidewalk lined streets, and a clubhouse where residents can enjoy all sorts of community events. The biggest draw to Pecan Grove, of course, is the convenient water access. Pecan Grove’s deep-water boat ramp offers what New Hanover County can’t; a convenient straight shot to the Intracoastal Waterway. Pecan Grove residents enjoy boat rides to waterfront restaurants and days on the water exploring neighboring sandbars.
“The beach is 10 minutes away, we are minutes to surrounding golf courses and we will be conveniently located near the Hampstead Bypass on schedule to be built,” Mathews says. Lisa Mathews has been in real estate for 17 years. She grew up in Wilmington until she and her family moved to Pender County in 2003 for the schools, as Topsail schools are ranked among the best in the region. “It’s been a really good place to raise my kids and have them in a really great school district,” says Mathews.
Pecan Grove’s new phase of lots will start at $139,000. Many of these lots sit on an elevated bluff overlooking the tidal marshes of Mullet Run with long range views. “Growing up in Wilmington, I’ve watched how the area has grown and I’ve seen the changes” says Mathews. “Now we’re seeing that same kind of growth in Pender County. The secret’s out!”
Population growth for Pender County
Single Family New Home Construction Building Permits issued in Pender County
“I have gone from my kitchen table at home to a 3,000 square foot office in less than 3 years, I am overwhelmed by how much we have grown in such a short amount of time.”
– Jonathan Earle, owner of DAE Building, who launched his commercial construction company in 2016
At the DAE Building office on Kerr Avenue, owner Jonathan Earle sits at his desk. On his computer screen are a set of plans for one of three projects about to break ground along Market Street. On his wall hangs a framed quote by Thomas A. Edison.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
– Thomas A. Edison
The quote is a constant reminder to Earle of the hard work that goes into every opportunity before him, especially the one that came knocking on his door in 2017 when he decided to launch his very own commercial construction company entitled, DAE Building. “When the building industry started flourishing in this area again, I knew it was now or never for me… I jumped out at a great time and I haven’t stopped since,” says Earle.
The company is named after Earle’s son, Denver, and in just over three years, DAE Building has completed more than 80 commercial projects ranging from small repair jobs to multi-million-dollar structures including medical office buildings, a carwash, strip centers, clubhouse renovations and additions, and automotive buildings, just to name a few.2020 will be no different with already 10 new projects in the works.
“As I look back, I am overwhelmed with how much we have grown and accomplished in such a short amount of time,” says Earle who sacrificed time off and sleep during those early days of getting DAE off and running.
“I am extremely blessed with the amount of work that DAE Building has received and is forecasted to receive this year,” Earle says. DAE moved into their office on Kerr Ave. in 2018 and Earle now has 20 employees that collectively bring more than 100 years of experience to the table. “I was so blessed to find an amazing team of people that are of the same mindset as me, work as hard as possible to make DAE Building a success,” says Earle.
Earle, a Wilmington native, received his construction management degree from East Carolina University and has been working in the commercial construction industry since 1994. He says the success of DAE Building has a lot to do with the company’s commitment to providing high quality work at a fair price. “We want DAE Building to leave a positive legacy in this community,” says Earle. “I am from Wilmington and I want to represent Wilmington in the best way possible, building quality structures that endure and structures that become part of an area’s community and history.”
The result has been 100% customer satisfaction.
Value of New Commercial Construction in New Hanover County
Multi-Family Dwelling Units built
2010: 98 multi-family units built
2019: 1,574 multi-family units built
“Land is kind of like wine, you buy it and then you let age it for just the right time.”
– Craig Stevens, founder and owner of Stevens Fine Homes, who is currently developing land in Brunswick County purchased more than a decade ago.
With more than 3,000 homes built and more than 50 neighborhoods developed throughout the Cape Fear region, Stevens Fine Homes owner Craig Stevens has been on the front lines of the housing market for the past 30 years. In fact, it was during a down market many years ago when Stevens made the strategic decision to purchase a large parcel of land in Brunswick County.
“Land is kind of like a fine wine, you buy it in a bad market when land prices are down, and then you let it age for just the right time,” says Stevens.
That right time has arrived. At this year’s 2020 Parade of Homes, Stevens Fine Homes will debut a brand-new neighborhood called The Pinnacle Townes, located inside Brunswick County’s Mallory Creek Plantation. The Pinnacle Townes will feature stylish board and batten townhouses and twin villas. This exciting new collection will become the seventh neighborhood developed by Stevens Fine Homes on the very land Craig Stevens purchased over a decade ago.
“With Brunswick County, I expected it. New Hanover County is a lot like Manhattan. It’s surrounded by water and there’s nowhere to go. This is such a great place to live that it has to grow, but it can’t grow in New Hanover County anymore,” says Stevens.
Fast forward to today and Stevens’ foresight is now coming to fruition. According to the city of Wilmington, as of 2019 there are only 2,800 acres left of vacant land in Wilmington, down from 6,757 acres in 2016. Additionally, US Census reports show Brunswick County gained over 14,000 new residents in 2018 alone, beating out New Hanover County by nearly 2,000.
“Brunswick County is the place, this is where my children will be building one day,” Stevens says.
Strategically located in Brunswick County, just a short drive from downtown Wilmington, the neighborhoods Stevens developed in Mallory Creek have experienced steady growth over the past decade with multiple sold out communities.
Stevens is now releasing a new collection of homesites in The Pines at Mallory Creek. This sought-after neighborhood features one and two-story coastal craftsman-style homes. The Pines’ Niklaus floor plan won the 2019 Parade of Homes Gold award.
The new Pinnacle Townes was built in response to an overwhelming demand for townhomes and low maintenance living. “People kept asking for them saying they have a family member moving into town who needs something a little smaller. They’ve already started taking off, some have already sold,” says Stevens.
Despite the demand and the growth, Stevens is keeping an even flow pace to his building to ensure the highest quality home for every homeowner no matter what the market.
“My old business model was, build all you can when it’s a great market. Now, we’ve taken on a whole new approach. It’s a more disciplined way of doing things, controlling the building process, it’s the single best thing we’ve ever done,” says Stevens.
Stevens built his first house in 1991. Two years later, he launched Stevens Fine Homes out of the back of his pick-up truck and found a niche for building in the $200,000 – $400,000 range. In 2005, he hit an all-time high with 325 homes built and sold in a single year, followed by an all-time low of 68 homes in 2008. Stevens made a great comeback in 2010 with 160 homes closed. Today, the Stevens Fine Homes sales and development team currently have homes underway across all three counties in the Cape Fear region, at a steady controlled pace, in what Stevens is calling a healthy, increasing market.
“This is not the crazy boom of 2005, this is better, this is a steady, nice, consistent increase,” says Stevens.
Population growth for Brunswick County
Single Family New Home Construction Building Permits issued in Brunswick County
Buildable Land Left in Wilmington
2019: 2,800 acres of vacant buildable land
2016: 6,757 acres of vacant buildable land