Chatham’s great inundation continues

BY D. LARS DOLDER, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/30/21

Last year, during one of the pandemic’s earlier misleads, economists had a grand revelation: our “new normal” work-from-home standard and affinity for six-foot radii would change the real …

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Chatham’s great inundation continues

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Posted

Last year, during one of the pandemic’s earlier misleads, economists had a grand revelation: our “new normal” work-from-home standard and affinity for six-foot radii would change the real estate market for good. Big cities — replete with dense neighborhoods and tight living spaces — would die out alongside all pre-pandemic subsistence.

In October, I covered the Chatham Development Briefing, a panel discussion hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on Chatham’s propensity for growth. The big takeaway was clear.

“This might actually be a plus for North Carolina,” N.C. State economics professor Michael Walden said of the apparent shift in living standards. “I would also think that for Chatham County — which is really uniquely located between two metropolitan areas, the Triad and the Triangle, yet very accessible to those — this could be a game-changer in terms of improving its economy, growing in people, growing businesses. So that is something very much to look forward to and anticipate.”

Since then, many experts have changed their minds about a great migration. After achieving widespread vaccination, most of the population leapt at the chance to pick up where their lives had paused in early 2020, and the mass exodus hypothesis mostly fizzled out. New York and San Francisco did forfeit large swaths of residents, but their data are outliers.

“(A)bout 30 million change-of-address requests to the U.S. Postal Service in 2020 show that with these two very visible exceptions — and a few smaller ones — migration patterns during the pandemic have looked a lot like migration patterns before it,” a New York Times report said. “... In general, areas that were already attracting new residents kept attracting them. Those that were losing migrants lost more.”

Walden wasn’t wrong about Chatham, though. It’s great inundation barrels on, but it might have little to do with pandemic shifts in homeowner appetite. Chatham fits the NYT’s first category — a county which had already been trending toward explosive growth before the pandemic — and the population boom is only advancing.

“I don’t think the pandemic was a catalyst for all this,” Cindy Dameron, a longtime Chatham real estate agent told me. “No, people were already coming in.”

Research Triangle Park put Chatham on the map years before COVID-19, she said, and its prospective commercial growth solidified its place as one of North Carolina’s leading destinations.

“We’ve got the megasites that people are taking a look at all the time,” Dameron said. “And Siler City’s working on revitalizing the downtown area; Pittsboro with their road reconstruction is going to make downtown better and add draw. I think we’ll get a lot of businesses off it all.”

For Chatham, that portends steady and sustainable growth for years to come. The 1,802-acre Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) Site and the 2,150-acre Triangle Innovation Point (TIP) in Moncure each promise to introduce tens of thousands of new jobs. And nearby industry giants such as Google and Apple will amplify Chatham’s nationwide, if not global, appeal.

“Those companies are bringing people in and it’s keeping us busy,” Dameron said. “And inventory is low and what’s driving more people is working from home and not commuting.”

Dameron has lived in Siler City since 1968 and worked in real estate for more than 20 years. She sells both residential and commercial properties, which gives her a uniquely comprehensive perspective of Chatham’s markets. While many have framed Chatham as the latest appendage of the greater Triangle area, Dameron sees it differently.

“Its reputation is growing and I think it’s kind of standing on its own as a unique property or a unique area,” she said. “It’s not — it’ll never be just another Triangle property.”

In turn, property values are surging and inventory is scarce. In the last round of property reappraisals last year, Pittsboro’s average home saw a 40% increased value. And it’s just the start. For would-be business owners and prospective homeowners alike, now’s the time to buy in.

“They’re working on it constantly,” Dameron said of Chatham leaders and developers. “Every year there is big improvement. Downtowns looks better, we’re getting new apartments and new retail spaces and restaurants and breweries. Chatham’s not sitting still.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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