The COVID-19 pandemic created both opportunities and challenges for builders in Wilkes County in 2020.
Wilkes County Inspections Department records show new single family home construction and other types of building activity increased in 2020.
The department issued 96 permits for construction of new single family residences in 2020, up 14% from 84 in 2019. Eighty such permits were issued in 2018, 109 in 2017 and 78 in 2016 in Wilkes.
The Wilkes Building Inspections Department covers all of the county except North Wilkesboro. Additions and renovations accounted for most of the construction activity in North Wilkesboro in 2020, said Curt Hayes, the town’s building inspector.
“By far the biggest factor driving this (increase in construction) is low interest rates for borrowing money,” said Gary Hayes, president of the Wilkes & Yadkin Home Builders Association.
“Next to this I would say, or am told, is the low supply of existing houses on the market for sale” in Wilkes, said Hayes, adding that people moving to rural areas also increased construction.
Eric Huffman, a builder and Realtor in Wilkes, agreed about low interest rates being the single biggest factor driving construction and real estate activity in Wilkes in 2020.
“There are also a lot of people moving here from out of town and out of state because COVID-19 is so bad in big cities and they want to get away from it,” said Huffman. The impact is countywide, he added.
The average U.S. mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed loan dropped to multiple record lows in 2020, including 2.67% in December. Interest rates continued to fall after the U.S. Federal Reserve’s cut in its key interest rate to near zero in March to help buttress the economy amid the pandemic.
Interest rates are expected to rise in 2021.
Builders were challenged by shortages of building materials and resulting higher prices in 2020. In many cases, these shortages resulted from supply chain problems. COVID-19 surges worsened a shortage of construction workers.
The combined value of single family construction in Wilkes was $22.3 million in 2020, $18.8 million in 2019, $18.9 million in 2018, $22.6 million in 2017 and $17.6 million in 2016, according to permits issued by the Wilkes Inspections Department.
Square footage of this construction totaled 183,084 in 2020, 164,572 in 2019, 152,231 in 2018, 201,505 in 2017 and 154,363 in 2016.
Among the four largest (dollar-wise) construction projects the Wilkes Inspections Department issued permits for in 2020, three won’t generate property taxes because the owners are nonprofit organizations.
The most expensive is a new 18,680-square-foot place of worship under construction on N.C. 115 for Cherry Grove Baptist Church, with a current church building off Vannoy Ridge Road in the Brushy Mountain community. Permit records list the one-story, wood-frame facility with a value of $5.13 million. This includes a sanctuary, kitchen and more. The general contractor is Brushy Mountain Builders Inc.
The 17,883-square-foot Planet Fitness building on Two Rivers Drive (off Curtis Bridge Road) in Wilkesboro was recently completed and is open for business. This structural steel building is listed with a value of $4.97 million.
A building permit also was issued for a 21,000-square-foot aircraft hangar for nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse at the Wilkes County Airport, listed with a value of $2.51 million. James R. Vannoy Sons Construction Co., the project’s general contractor, has started construction. Samaritan’s Purse recently completed a three-story, 47,000-square-foot office building on its 21-acre N.C. 268 East campus in North Wilkesboro.
Another of the four is the Town of Wilkesboro’s new ABC store, nearly complete along U.S. 421 near the Browns Ford Road intersection. This 5,207-square-foot, wood-frame building is listed with a value of $1.21 million. Luray Construction Services Inc. is the general contractor.
The Wilkes Inspections Department issued permits for additions, renovations and other improvements valued at $44.95 million in 2020, up 21.8% from permits for similar work worth $36.90 million in 2019.
Permits were issued for placing 89 mobile homes in 2019 and 91 in 2020. They were issued for six modular homes in 2019 and 11 in 2020.