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October 12, 2012 8:33 pm
Charlotte, in the state of North Carolina, has spent the past four years reeling from the effects of the US financial meltdown.
The city’s dramatic growth over the previous three decades – fuelled by its transformation into the country’s second-largest banking centre after New York City – came to a grinding halt in 2008 when the financial industry went into freefall. This led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the crippling of Charlotte’s housing market, a story not dissimilar to boomtowns such as Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Charlotte’s thicket of glistening skyscrapers in the Uptown central business district – which hosts corporations such as Bank of America – and the surrounding apartment complexes provided a semblance of splendour that was far removed from reality. Over the next two years house prices plummeted, state and local government funding fell, deep pockets of poverty formed, crime spiked and state schools suffered.
Only recently has the city, which last month hosted this year’s Democratic National Convention, started to see a turnround. Encouraged by the bottoming out of home prices and the pick-up in US economic growth, cash-rich buyers have returned, with those seeking a lifestyle change attracted by Charlotte’s proximity to mountains, lakes, beaches and parkland.
Heather O’Neill, a 27-year-old financial fraud investigator from Portland, Oregon, flew 2,280 miles east with her husband in search of a new home. “We liked the open space and the national parks. We wanted the acreage to be able to grow our own produce, so we have been looking further out east. These larger homes are far more affordable here than they are back home and we thought we would also take advantage of the current low interest rates,” she says.
New mid-rise residential developments fringe the Uptown city centre. Fourth Ward is a district with Charlotte’s few remaining 19th-century Queen Anne buildings while First Ward, once one of the city’s most dangerous areas, is now home to sizeable mixed-income housing with further projects under construction.
Nearby is NoDa, or North Davidson, Charlotte’s arts district. The neighbourhood, which was formed in the 1980s after the closing of the area’s last textile mill, now hosts antique stores, trendy boutiques and coffee shops as well as new microbreweries.
Vicky Mitchener, agent at Dickens-Mitchener & Associates, says Charlotte’s market is in recovery: “Prices have stabilised and we saw a very strong 2011-12. While the demand for homes in the $1m range is still low, there are bidding wars in some of the popular neighbourhoods.”
Homes in Myers Park, Dilworth and South Park that are close to Uptown are in high demand, particularly with families. Myers Park, with its old southern estates and oak-lined streets, is one of Charlotte’s most affluent neighbourhoods. It boasts high quality grocery stores and eateries and is known for its good state schools. WinWin Charlotte Partners has among its listings 2300 Wellesley Avenue, a five-bedroom home, at $1.15m.
Neighbouring Dilworth is known for its bungalow-style homes while South Park is renowned for its luxury shopping. Center City Realty is marketing 2110 Scott Avenue in Dilworth, a four-bedroom home, for $455,000.
“Many people relocating from New York, Florida and California are buying up properties in these areas. For many locals, properties in Myers Park or Dilworth are not affordable. But for outsiders, a family home for $600,000 close to the city is very attractive,” says TJ Larsen of My Townhome.
Although South Charlotte, loosely defined as anything south of Uptown, had seen the most development in the past decade, with new homes, schools and shopping malls, Larsen says many people are moving further north.
Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson are the northernmost towns in Mecklenburg County, in which Charlotte is situated. These neighbourhoods have seen significant growth with many residents opting to live near Lake Norman – the largest man-made body of fresh water in North Carolina. Tim Wilkison Signature Realty has among its listings 7616 Waterview Drive, a three-bedroom waterfront home in Cornelius, for $500,000.
Charlotte has been praised for its diversity with about 35 per cent of its population belonging to the African-American, Hispanic or Asian communities. However many have criticised the city’s gaping class divide along racial lines, arguing that Charlotte’s growth has been mainly concentrated in the white-populated south, whereas the west and east, heavily populated by African Americans and Hispanics respectively, have been left behind.
“There are still the vestiges of residential segregation,” says Mary C Curtis, a Charlotte-based journalist covering politics, race and culture. “But this is not what is thought of as a traditional southern city. There is an affluent black population in the western corridor of Charlotte, and throughout the city, too. It will take time for the transition to happen.”
Charlotte’s nascent recovery is still uncertain. The city has sought to develop its energy sector to decrease its dependency on banking, but much still has to be done to foster growth, including expanding infrastructure, training workers and boosting manufacturing. The city’s unemployment rate stands at 10 per cent, above the 7.8 per cent national average. Bank of America and Nascar, two of the city’s main employers, announced more job cuts in the past month. The number of homes in foreclosure and mortgage delinquencies also remain at persistently high levels. All of these factors still have a visible effect on the city.
● Proximity to Blue Ridge Mountains
● Second-largest US public hospital system
● Roads struggle to cope with rush hour traffic in the city centre
● High levels of unemployment
What you can buy for ...
$100,000 A three-bedroom home in North Charlotte
$1m A six-bedroom home in Dilworth
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