For less than the in-season rate on one night at a motel in some other beach town, the careful investor could snatch up the deed to an oceanfront lot at North Topsail Beach when 55 parcels go up for auction.
Offerings include tiny slivers of a sea oat-covered sand dune too small to build on, along with prime sites for that dream beach house or town home quadriplex that could generate rental income for decades.
“C’mon down,” urged said Jimmy Johnson, owner of Johnson Properties, who will conduct the sale for the town on March 3. “This is one of those opportunities where somebody could potentially own their own little piece of paradise for not a share in the railroad, I guess. It may be a good introduction for somebody that thinks five years from now, they want a place at the beach.”
In more than three decades in the business, this is the first time Johnson has sold such a large collection of coastal real estate, he said, and he hopes to attract buyers from all over the country. He has sold more unusual things for governments: a courthouse, several schools and sewage treatment plants.
But a bargain beach will draw a different kind of crowd, Johnson said. “The beach is for dreamers.”
North Topsail Beach, which is about 140 miles southeast of Raleigh, occupies the northern third of Topsail Island and a small area on the mainland. (Two other towns share the island, Topsail Beach and Surf City.)
Since it was founded in 1990, the town of North Topsail Beach has amassed a broad inventory of real estate. It came through various means: tax forfeitures, donations and at least one purchase the town made with the intent of using the land for municipal purposes before changing its plans. A handful of the properties are owned by Onslow County, but lie within the town limits and are being included in the sale to take advantage of what town officials hope will be a bidding fervor.
“It only takes two people who want the same piece of property to drive up the price,” said North Topsail Beach Mayor Fred Burns, who has worked in real estate in the past.
The sale will help the town in two ways, said manager Stuart Turille, whose office on the second floor of town hall looks out on marshlands and a distant beach. The proceeds of the sale will go toward North Topsail Beach’s never-ending beach renourishment work. And taking the land from public to private ownership will put it back on the tax rolls, generating annual revenue.
The sale includes many attractive lots, some oceanfront and some with ocean or sound view. The most valuable of those is a single-family home lot on the ocean with a tax value of $325,000.
Some of the properties, including one adjacent to the mayor’s oceanfront house near the northern tip of the island, can’t be built on because the ocean has eroded so much of the lot there is no room to put a house and still meet state and local setback rules. The lot next to Burns’ home also is piled with huge sandbags placed by the town in an effort to slow further erosion.
Burns said he might bid on that tract to give himself an extra parking place if he ever needs it.
More than a dozen of the parcels to be sold show a tax value of just $100. All those are lots deemed unsuitable as home sites, though town planner Deb Hill said occasionally the ocean gives back what it has taken away, and a too-small lot becomes usable again.
“It’s rare,” she said. “But under the right circumstances, with some sand fences and sea oats, some nurturing and babying, sometimes a lot can build back up.”
In the meantime, some of the $100 lots might still be valuable to the right buyer, such as a homeowner across the street who would like to claim a house has direct beach access. Some of those lots are large enough for an owner to build a set of stairs and maybe a small private deck.
For someone who owns a house two or three rows back from the ocean – or is among the 60,000 people who come to North Topsail Beach each week through the summer from across the state and beyond – such a perch could be just the right size.
“They could have their own little wonderland,” the auctioneer said.
Online bidding on the properties for sale at North Topsail Beach will open in mid-February. The auction will be at 1 p.m. on March 3, and bidders can attend in person at North Topsail Beach Town Hall, by phone, or online at www.johnsonproperties.com. Information about the properties can be found at www.johnsonproperties.com and www.ntbnc.org/Pages/PublicNotices.aspx.