Water has been gone from the lakes long enough to give way to nature, but the new views – while not unsightly – aren’t quite as picturesque.
Hurricane Florence stole Boiling Spring Lakes’ identity more than four years ago. Floodwater from the storm overpowered the dams, causing them to breach and prompting an exodus of water that hasn’t since returned.
Complicated layers of bureaucracy and a need to secure as much outside capital as possible caused the much-anticipated repair process to slug along.
But now, with the support of what amounts to a $20 million credit line to the small city in Brunswick County because of the passage of a bond referendum in November, and millions more in pledged grant dollars from public sources, Boiling Spring Lakes residents have something tangible to look forward to.
That anticipated flow of water could bring with it buoyed residential real estate values and renewed economic opportunities for the city and its roughly 6,200 residents.
Construction bids for the $52 million project were solicited in February, but the city had to re-advertise the project in March after receiving just two proposals instead of the minimum of three needed to move forward. City officials tentatively hope work will begin in April and are pushing for an aggressive schedule with the goal of refilling the lakes by spring 2026.
“It’s taken longer than anybody anticipated. But not for lack of effort,” said Boiling Spring Lakes Commissioner Tom Guzulaitis, who was first elected in 2019. “It felt as if you were playing a game of whack-a-mole … as you cleared one hurdle, suddenly you’d have another hurdle to get through.”
The board’s goal is to not ask residents to shoulder a tax increase to help pay for the project, but whether one will be necessary is still yet to be determined.
‘CROWN JEWEL OF THE CITY’
What has become of the community without its eponymous lakes? Residents say the area still elicits charm in its quiet, family-oriented feel, ripe with nature and the absence of congested streets.
But its missing heart is inescapable. The most well-traveled roadway, N.C. 87, offered a glimpse of a narrow stream, bordered by thick layers of vegetation. That stream was once Patricia Lake, known to locals as “the big lake.”
“This is the crown jewel of the city,” said Hank Troscianiec, a Keller Williams real estate agent. “Without the big lake, you’re no longer Boiling Spring Lakes.”
Selling “waterfront” property initially presented complications, Troscianiec said.
“After the hurricane, there was a lot of discussions surrounding, ‘OK, how do we market this?’” he said. “You really market it as lakefront if there’s no lake?”
Disclosures in listings settled that debate, he said, as did agents being transparent with buyers about the city’s attempt to rebuild the dams. In the interim, buyers made purchasing decisions based on the belief the lakes would return.
“The values I think were largely driven by the fact that people went, ‘We think it’s coming back.’” Troscianiec said. “And the real estate community believed it’s coming back.”
Real estate professionals disagree on whether the community’s home values were dampened by its newfound lakeless reality. But there’s consensus that the lakes’ reprisal should rise all tides.
After Florence hit the area in September 2018, and it became clear the onerous repair process wouldn’t begin anytime soon, Keller Williams real estate agent Todd Derksen said many lakefront property owners cut their ties. “They thought, ‘Oh, shoot, I’m going to lose my equity in my home,’” he recalled. “So there was a little bit of an exodus.”
Since the bond passed, “That has changed,” he said.
Derksen believes the dried lakes lowered the potential purchase price sellers would have otherwise been able to capture in the years since the storm. “Absolutely, of course it did,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
By how much, exactly? “I think that’s very difficult to put a number on,” he said. “I would be hesitant, but I’m very comfortable saying that it has an impact.”
Mirroring national and regional trends, real estate values in Boiling Spring Lakes and Brunswick County ballooned in recent years.
Though home values are markedly lower in Boiling Spring Lakes compared to its municipal neighbors and the county, the city’s single-family home median sale price soared at a more dramatic rate between 2019 and 2022, with a 63% boost.
Sales prices for the entire county rose 50% during that same period.
Last year, the median sale price for single-family homes in Boiling Spring Lakes was about $289,000, far steeper than the $177,000 during the year following the hurricane. Meanwhile, the single-family home median sale price last year in Brunswick County was about $368,000; in Leland was roughly $352,000; in Bolivia was nearly $328,000; and in Southport was $430,500.
But there’s almost no way to tie Boiling Spring Lakes sales data, or lack thereof, to the lakes being gone, said Cynthia Walsh, CEO of the Brunswick County Association of Realtors. “Also, it would be unfair to impossible to guess how much more a home would have sold for,” she said.
BANKING ON THE FUTURE
A factor that has played in the city’s favor from a demand perspective, real estate professionals say, is homeowners being priced out of nearby markets.
Guzulaitis, who is also a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, said about half of his clients fit in this category. The other half is discovering the region from out-of-state.
Shellie and Scott Teubner purchased their “lakefront” home in August. Both working in remote-friendly roles, the Teubners jumped on the option to escape bottlenecks in Cornelius, a Charlotte suburb.
“The traffic is terrible. We were just wanting to get out of it,” Shellie Teubner said. “It’s just a dream that I’ve had of moving coastal for a while. And with our jobs, we just had the opportunity. So we just decided to go for it.”
The Teubners said they voted in favor of the lakes bond referendum, which passed with about 1,700 votes in favor and 920 against. Though the dam rebuilding wasn’t guaranteed at the time of their purchase, Shellie Teubner said they felt confident in their chances.
“I don’t think we would have purchased the house without knowing that the lake was going to come back,” she said. “To have a lake in our backyard eventually, I’m going to be beside myself.”
Since moving in, she picked up coaching the local basketball and soccer team, which helped her 9-year-old daughter make new friends. “It seems to be really family oriented. The community has welcomed us,” she said. “It's a very home-like feel.”
Her husband recently put in an offer to purchase the empty lot next door on South Shore Drive, with plans to keep it vacant. “There’s hardly any traffic,” Scott Teubner said. “There’s a breeze blowing every day.”
When the lake fills in, he hopes to buy jet skis and a pontoon boat, fix up the gazebo and dock and install a fire pit by the water. Crews have begun clearing flora on the next lake over, he said, and will soon make their way to his backyard. “It won’t be long before it’s gone,” he said of the vegetation.
While Scott Teubner said he believes the lakes’ return will increase his property value, it doesn’t really matter – they want to retire there.
“I think in the next five years, it’s really going to bloom,” Shellie Teubner said of the city’s growth opportunities. “Maybe 10.”
Before the lakes fill in, Guzulaitis said the case could be made from a buyer and value standpoint to act sooner rather than later.
“We’re such a net importer of people to this county to begin with, and when the lakes are restored, certainly Boiling Spring Lakes at that point in time will become, I think, a pretty highly sought-after destination,” he said.
In the first couple of years post-Florence, Guzulaitis said the dried-out conditions likely precluded some would-be buyers from considering the area and prompted a handful of homeowners to leave. “Certainly, there was some turnover, but I wouldn't say it was huge,” he said.
A work opportunity in Wilmington drove Tyler Crenshaw to relocate his family from Fayetteville to the area in January 2022.
They happened upon a private “waterfront” fixer-upper on North Shore Drive but weren’t dissuaded by the dry backyard. Experience with a twice-washed-out Hope Mills Lake outside of Fayetteville meant Crenshaw was familiar with the government-led dam rebuilding process.
“I bought it knowing it was going to take a while for that to come back,” he said. “I looked at it as a buffer in case the market went down, I would still have the fact that it has the potential to be lakefront.”
Crenshaw also voted in favor of the bond referendum – “for obvious reasons,” he said. Now, he said he looks forward to building a small dock where he can keep his johnboat. “It’s sitting in the backyard,” he said, “waiting to go into the water.”