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As downtown becomes less affordable, young families look to north Durham

Erika Ventura, left, lifts her son, James Ventura, out of a swing at Northgate Park as her husband Jonathan Ventura holds their daughter, Eva, on Wednesday Aug. 16, 2017, in Durham, NC. Erika and James have been coming to this park since they were kids themselves. “Now we have our children here who would’ve thought,” Erika said, having moved to the Northgate Park neighborhood seven years ago.
Erika Ventura, left, lifts her son, James Ventura, out of a swing at Northgate Park as her husband Jonathan Ventura holds their daughter, Eva, on Wednesday Aug. 16, 2017, in Durham, NC. Erika and James have been coming to this park since they were kids themselves. “Now we have our children here who would’ve thought,” Erika said, having moved to the Northgate Park neighborhood seven years ago. ctoth@heraldsun.com

When Drew Helm finally decided to make the move from Raleigh to Durham earlier this year, he scoured the neighborhoods around downtown for an affordable home for his wife and two kids.

He did his research and drove from neighborhood to neighborhood, looking for value in the $200,000s and certainly not the $300,000s or $350,000s.

But after weeks of looking, the prices just weren’t adding up for his young family, which was primarily searching on the west side of downtown and down Holloway Street.

“If you divide Durham in half and look at everything on the west side, we were priced out,” said Helm, 26, who works in commercial lending at Self-Help Credit Union in downtown Durham. “If we wanted to find something there we needed a lot more money or to compromise on a place at a price that I thought was too expensive.”

On the east side of downtown, the story was slightly different, but the conclusion was the same.

“Either the homes were completely run down and needed hundreds of thousands of dollars to remodel or it was just turning over super quickly because people were showing up with cash,” he said. “It was hard for us to find a good one in that area.”

Eventually, a real estate agent pointed the Helms toward Northgate Park, a neighborhood north of Interstate 85 yet to see skyrocketing prices from a booming downtown. The family found a home there six months ago for $220,000.

“I-85 is becoming less and less so a border for (potential homebuyers),” said Kelly Diard, managing broker at Durham-based Lionstone Realty. “You don’t have to live way out in suburbia to have a nice yard, and Northgate Park is there so if you have a dog you can take them there. People absolutely love that.”

What’s more is that homes there – mainly ranch-style and bungalow structures from the 1940s and ’50s – are still relatively cheap and “investors have not found (the neighborhood) yet,” Diard added.

Nate Baker, a 28-year-old city planner who moved into the neighborhood this year, said Northgate Park’s relative affordability pushed him to the neighborhood.

“I was just looking for anywhere that was walkable ... and when you are looking at stuff in downtown, you are looking at an extra $100,000 if you go one mile closer to downtown,” he said.

“Staying on this side of the freeway, even with the sounds, could actually make it affordable.”

That growing interest, as well as the ongoing economic recovery from the last decade, has caused prices to increase there – albeit not as much as neighborhoods closer to downtown.

From 2011 to 2016, the average price per square foot for homes sold in Northgate Park has risen more than 49 percent, from $98.70 per square foot to $147.19, according to data provided by Lionstone Realty.

That’s not as expensive as the West End neighborhood for example – an area the Helms thought too expensive. The average price per square foot for a home in the West End last year was nearly $18 more expensive than Northgate Park at $165 per square foot.

But prices in Northgate Park, Diard said, will keep increasing for the foreseeable future.

A neighborhood ‘re-emerges’

Northgate Park originally blossomed in the boom years after World War II, and at one point was the home to Duke basketball star Christian Laettner, at least according to Northgate Park’s active neighborhood association.

The neighborhood, bordered by Roxboro Street on the east and Duke Street on the west, is home to both Northgate Park and the Museum of Life and Science.

Carol Henderson Pond has lived on Gresham Avenue in Northgate Park since the early ’90s, but she also grew up in the neighborhood.

She said she’s seen a significant uptick in interest from new buyers, especially young families.

“It’s like seeing (the neighborhood) re-emerge,” she said of the growing interest in the neighborhood.

The homes are not only being bought by younger families, but a lot of the older homes are now also being renovated, Pond explained.

There are even bidding wars when homes go on the market now, she added.

“The increase in home ownership by young professionals” has helped decrease the number of properties available for rent in the neighborhood as well, she said. “They have the money to invest in their homes and they are going to take care of their yards.”

Farrah Shapiro, a new mother that has lived in the neighborhood for around eight years, said she has noticed a rise in young families, like hers, moving into Northgate Park.

The park, she said, has become a magnet of activity for people walking their dogs or children.

“Last year is when we had our kid, and I decided to stay at home,” she said. “I have been home with him for the past 17 months, and I have seen a lot of ... new parents living within the vicinity because you would see them from walking (in the park).

“I kind of refer to (the park) as the lung for Durham,” she added. “It is just green and you feel refreshed every time you come out here.”

But the main driver of interest from young families is still primarily going to be neighborhood’s relative affordability, said Adrian Brown, a broker with the Durham-based real estate firm Inhabit Real Estate.

“I think it’s a very sought-after neighborhood,” he said. “There is affordable housing stock there, and it’s close enough (to downtown) that you don’t feel like you are in the country.”

And as millennials keep getting older and start having families, the neighborhoods just a little farther out from downtown will continue to heat up, Brown said.

“This has always been the case as young people start getting married and thinking about houses,” he said. “Sometimes it is harder to afford homes closer in, so they start looking further out.”

Northgate Park is a great opportunity for appreciating value, Brown added.

Helm agreed with that assessment – though he added rising prices weren’t a driving factor for moving into the neighborhood.

“It’s a great working-class neighborhood where everyone seems to care about each other,” he said. “I am definitely excited to see it grow, but I would definitely be sad if it turned into tearing down a bunch of houses and turning them into $500,000 homes.”

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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