Beach House Investing: Best Beach Towns in North Carolina

With the sixth longest coastline in the United States and reliably friendly summer weather, North Carolina features a number of beach towns that are perennial favorite vacation destinations for both North Carolinians and tourists from out of state. There are well over a dozen popular beach towns in North Carolina, but among the most popular, and the ones that command the highest rental rates for beach homes, are Emerald Isle, Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Beach.

Beach town properties have, overall, held up value better than most other vacation home properties in the aftermath of the housing bubble. The rental market for beach vacation homes appears to be less subject to significant fluctuations based on prevailing economic conditions than rentals in ski resort areas, and mountain and other vacation/resort areas in the U.S.

1) Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle, located on the Southern Outer Banks and part of the Crystal Coast area of North Carolina, has long been one of the most popular family vacation destinations on the east coast of the U.S. The permanent resident population is less than 5,000, but the population swells to as much as 10 times that amount, 50,000 or more, during the summer months.

The local government of Emerald Isle works diligently to maintain the island's beauty and popularity with tourists through ordinances and restrictions designed to maintain a high standard of appearance in the city's real estate market. One of the draws for potential real estate investors is the fact that Emerald Isle, which has several seasonal events throughout the year, attracts more tourists, and therefore more potential renters, outside of just the summer months.

Local property tax rates are relatively low as compared to many other North Carolina coastal towns.

2) Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach, near the southern tip of the North Carolina coast and considered part of the larger metropolitan area of Wilmington, is one of the most unique beach towns in the state, stretching along a small beach island four miles long.

Despite a rash of hurricanes in the 1990s that caused considerable damage, Wrightsville Beach has continued to flourish as a major vacation destination, and the real estate market has expanded considerably, spurred on in part by the need to rebuild a number of homes destroyed by hurricanes. The relatively high number of newly constructed beachfront homes has increased the attraction of the city for summer tourists. During the peak of the rather lengthy tourist season that runs from March through October, the population of the city expands from less than 10,000 to over 70,000.

Increased new construction has led to rapidly increasing property values, and as a result, the median home price in Wrightsville Beach has ballooned to almost $900,000. Potential real estate investors should consider this in light of the fact the average weekly rental rate for beach homes, is only a bit higher than that commanded in Emerald Isle and Topsail Beach, where average home prices are much lower.

3) Topsail Beach

Topsail Beach is the smallest but most popular of the three beach towns located on 26-mile long Topsail Island. The town only has about 700 permanent residents and less than 2,000 homes, but during the summer tourist season, the population expands to more than 10,000. Being close to the resort towns of Surf City and North Topsail Beach increases the draw of Topsail Beach, since together the three towns offer much more in the way of festivals, restaurants and attractions for visitors to enjoy.

High-rise buildings are not allowed on the island, and conservation and ecological preservation are high priorities with the local government. The city has intentionally positioned itself as a family-friendly vacation resort. One of its most popular attractions is the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. The median home price in Topsail Beach is around $530,000.