Wilmington NC Homes for Sale
Now that you’re prequalified (or even better – preapproved), it’s time to start looking at Wilmington, NC, homes for sale. This area has been molded by trade routes, wars, and tourism, and has a unique layout with a myriad of neighborhoods. Sometimes buyers know exactly where they want to live, because they’ve passed through a community and fallen in love with the homes. But, oftentimes, buyers first identify a need (bigger home, smaller home, job relocation, etc.) and aren’t exactly sure where they want to be located. If you are one of these buyers, we have some tips for mastering your home search.
Where to Start Your Wilmington Home Search
There are a variety of ways to look at homes for sale. To find what works best for your needs, consider these resources.
One of the biggest names in real estate is Zillow. It’s the largest, most popular online database for viewing homes for sale. However, due to its size and the work it takes to maintain it, the site is also one of the most inaccurate. It’s not always Zillow’s fault, because they rely on data feeds from companies, associations, and public records, which means human error is a factor. But Zillow’s automated valuations are rarely correct, properties are frequently not updated, and new information is often combined with old. That said, use it with caution and cross-check your favorite listings with other websites.
Brokerage and Individual Agent Sites (and Apps)
Local brokerage and individual agent sites (and apps) all work off the same feed provided by the local multiple listing service (MLS), which makes them more accurate than the giant real estate portals. They all may have the same basic listing information, but the way a website interprets and combines it with other resources is what sets it apart from others. You may find one brokerage or agents has a more user-friendly and robust website than another.
Keep in mind there are real estate agents behind each of these websites. They will reach out to you when you sign up. If you are already working with an agent, we recommend using their website or app to prevent confusion. Of course, if you do sign up with a website and are contacted, let the person who reaches out to you know you are already working with someone. They’ll appreciate the heads-up as communicating with another agent’s client can go against the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.
North Carolina Regional Multiple Listing Service (NCRMLS)
The North Carolina Regional Multiple Listing Service (NCRMLS or MLS) is the primary database of Wilmington, NC, real estate for sale (as well as other areas of North Carolina). It provides the most comprehensive search options for finding a home for sale; however, it’s only accessible by REALTORS® and other members of the local association. To search for Wilmington, NC, homes for sale (or lots, condominiums, townhomes, boat slips, etc.), you need to solicit the services of a REALTOR®, who will then create a portal of searches that meet your criteria. While buyers may prefer having full control over creating queries, a search in the MLS can locate properties that may otherwise be overlooked, as well as homes that need to meet specific requirements (like investment properties with a certain rental income or houses modified with specific accessibility features). Plus, sometimes it just nice to have someone who knows the tricks of the trade to help you out.
For Sale by Owners (FSBOs)
Properties listed directly by the owners, as opposed to listing agents, aren’t always easy to find. For Sale by Owners or FSBOs (“fisbos”) often limit their marketing to save money and may only be discovered via websites that allow free or limited-fee listings (Zillow, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Groups, Military by Owner, etc.) and a roadside sign. However, checking out the local sale sites and Facebook groups may be another way to find the perfect home. Just keep in mind that not all FSBOs pay commission fees like traditional home listings, so if you want representation and guidance throughout the buying process, you may have to pay for it out of pocket. Make sure you ask about the commission prior to making an offer.
Tips for Narrowing Your Wilmington Home Search
Even in a seller’s market where inventory is low, narrowing your home search and keeping up with new listings can feel overwhelming. Here are some tips for narrowing your search.
Communities vs. Maps
One common way to narrow your home search is to locate communities that appeal to your location, price, and aesthetic desires. However, not all properties are located within communities or subdivisions, including:
Pre-development Lots. Communities are often developed in areas where homes and privately-owned lots already exist, so there are pockets of properties in desirable areas that don’t fall into a community search. They are labeled “Not in Subdivision” in our MLS and if someone was to do a search by this label, they would see properties all over New Hanover County, as well as Brunswick County, Pender County, Onslow County, etc. As a result, it’s not the best way to search for a home in a specific location.
New Construction. It takes some time for new communities to be added to the MLS and third-party websites. Consequently, new constructions homes may be listed but not searchable by community names.
Both types of properties can be found using a map search (polygon or radius). This is a feature on the MLS and many third-party websites.
Extra Tip: If you find a great community while driving around Wilmington, open our app on your phone. You’ll see a list of “Closest Properties”, which you’ll be able to view on a map. Click the Contact button to schedule a showing.
Of course, you’ll want to narrow your home search to the price range you are preapproved for and can afford, but don’t be afraid to go a few thousand above that when creating a search for Wilmington, NC, homes for sale. Depending on the seller’s motivation, you may be able to negotiate the price down to what you can afford. But make sure you stay reasonable. An offer written $10,000 below list price could offend the seller and hurt your chances for an accepted offer, especially if you don’t have comparable properties to back it up.
Condominiums vs. Townhomes
Buyers considering purchasing a condominium or townhome are usually doing so due to a location requirement, lower purchase price, or the appeal of less maintenance. Traditionally, condominiums are units within a larger building and townhomes are single-family attached homes that share two walls with adjoining properties. This is why many people think anything that looks like a row of connected houses is a townhome. However, condominiums and townhomes are more like terms for different ownerships.
Condo buyers purchase the interior space of their unit, and partial ownership in the building and common areas governed by the HOA (or COA). Townhome buyers purchase their entire unit, the land it sits on, the roof (depends on the HOA), and partial ownership of common areas governed by the HOA. Neither terms determine an architectural style, so if you’re looking for a unit that only shares two walls, don’t eliminate condominiums when setting up your search. There are a few condo communities in the Wilmington area that look like 1-story townhomes.
A good way to narrow your Wilmington home search is to target the details you need and play around with the features you want. To do that, make a list of what you want and what you need (you’ve probably heard this a lot). Then, enter all of them into your initial search. If that doesn’t produce many results, remove some of your “wants” and try again.
Popular features to consider:
- 1st Floor Master
- Flooring (LVP, Laminate, Vinyl, Hardwood, or Tile)
- Single Story
- Waterfront (Intracoastal Waterway, Canal Front, Marsh Front, Sound Front, Pond Front, or Beach Front).
Up and coming features to consider (may only be available in the MLS):
- Energy Star Appliances
- Electric Car Charger
- Programmable Thermostats
- Sealed Crawl Space
- Tankless Water Heaters
Keep in mind that searchable details usually found on third-party websites have a whole extra layer to them in the MLS. For example, you could go to a major brokerage website and select that the home must include a pool. In the MLS, you can select if that’s a private pool (inground or above) or a community pool. You could also select on the website that the home is waterfront. In the MLS, you can search for homes according to the body of water (pond, lake, beach, canal, marsh, etc.). So, there are definitely advantages to having an MLS portal.
New Construction and Age of Home
When it comes to older homes, you either love them or avoid them. Wilmington was founded in 1739 and a significant number of historic homes still exist in the downtown area near the Cape Fear River. The city has only grown since then, so there's a wide range of build years. You can narrow your home search to decades with architectural features you love or keep it to within the last 10 or 20 years when upkeep is most minimal.
Of course, you can also search for new construction homes. You can do this on a brokerage or agent website by setting the Year Built to the past year through the next year. Keep in mind that onsite agents don't usually put all of their listings in the MLS. They often enter them in blocks with spec homes (unsold homes in progress) being the priority. They will then enter homes under contract in the MLS so the association and appraisers have a record. Your REALTOR® can get a status report on the community, including available lots, floor plans, standard features, build times, etc.
Extra Tip: While new construction homes may seem pretty straightforward, issues do arise (missed deadlines, incorrect features, poor workmanship, etc.). Onsite agents work to protect the builder's best interests, not the buyer's. You should have your own representation during the process. Make sure your REALTOR® speaks with the onsite agents first or you may be denied the opportunity to have your own representation.
Homeowners’ Association (HOA)
Most buyers feel strongly that they want or do not want a homeowners’ association (HOA). Whichever direction you lean, you can tailor your search to it. The options may differ from website to website, but the MLS has a simple Yes/No search option for HOAs. If you don’t want one, exclude all properties located in a community with an HOA. Easy-peasy.
If you prefer an HOA, you can search for specific amenities. These may include activity areas, like a clubhouse, swimming pool, fitness center, boat ramp, dock, tennis courts, or trails. It may also include infrastructure and services, like road maintenance, trash removal, or security.
Extra Tip: It’s not always easy to see if a community has sidewalks without driving through it. One way to locate communities with sidewalks is to select “Sidewalk” as an HOA amenity.
New Hanover County has a lot of different schools. The traditional public schools are listed in the MLS. Year-round public elementary schools may also be listed but usually aren’t, because they no longer show up on New Hanover County Schools’ online mapping tool. If your child is already in a school or you’re aiming to be located in a specific district, you can search for homes by school.
Year-round schools, at the publishing date of this article, are zoned to cover the north side of New Hanover County (Eaton Elementary School) and the south side (Codington Elementary School). The dividing line starts at the Cape Fear River, travels along Market Street until the Eastwood Road intersection, and goes all the way down Eastwood to Wrightsville Beach, which is included in Eaton’s district.
It’s very important that you verify the district a home is located in as we have ongoing redistricting. The online mapping tool has a map layer for upcoming years, which may reveal a school change. You can also call New Hanover County schools to verify the assigned school at (910) 254-4200.
As mentioned above, the MLS has search capabilities that third-party websites do not, including additional details. Another ability is the power to search remarks (the description of the property). Despite extensive lists of exterior and interior features, not everything is a selectable detail in the MLS (and, consequently, third-party websites), but the MLS does have the ability to search remarks for keywords, like “Charleston Style”, “saltwater pool”, or “yard maintenance” – all features that aren’t selectable options.
The MLS also has the ability to look up unique information like properties with gross rental income, furniture, federal flood insurance, Cobra Zoning, separate living spaces, service providers, and early possession. If you don’t know if something can be searched, ask your REALTOR®.
Locating Hidden Gems
Have you exhausted all your searchable resources and still not found “the one”? There are a few more pools to dip your toes in.
Withdrawns and Expireds
Withdrawns and expireds are properties that were once on the market but either were pulled for unknown circumstances or didn’t sell before their listing agreement expired. The good news is that they wanted to sell at some point, so there’s a chance they still want to. Your REALTOR® can run a search of these listings with the features you’re looking for and depending on the circumstances, reach out to the owners of specific properties or their agents to see if they’re still considering selling.
Location may be number one on your needs list when it comes to purchasing a home. If that’s the case, it may serve you well for your REALTOR® to reach out to homeowners in the community you have your heart set on to ask if they are interested in selling. There may be someone sitting on the sidelines waiting for the perfect time to list, and a buyer may be the motivation they need.
Agent Pocket and Coming Soon Listings
Real estate agents speak with a lot of homeowners. Not all of them are ready to list now but may sell at the right price. Others are ready but prefer not to have their home publicly listed. These are pocket listings (the agent figuratively has them in his or her pocket). If your REALTOR® has worked on building their business network, they should have a database of Wilmington real estate agents to query about such properties.
On a similar note, when a homeowner signs a listing agreement but isn’t ready for showings, they can still list the property as “Coming Soon” in the MLS. These listings are not publicly advertised, and showings cannot be scheduled until the status is changed to Active, but REALTORS® can keep an eye out for properties that fit their clients’ needs.
Ready to Start Your Wilmington Home Search?
When you’re ready to start your home search, we can help! Give us a call at (910) 202-2546 or tell us about your ideal home. You can also see a list of Active listings below (sorted newest first).
Wilmington NC Homes Recently Listed for Sale
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(all data current as of 5/16/2020)
Listing information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Read full disclaimer.