11/02/06 — Historic homes are city's hot properties

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Historic homes are city's hot properties

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 2, 2006 1:45 PM

Julie Thompson says she senses something different these days when she drives around the historic neighborhoods in and around downtown Goldsboro.

New faces can be seen on the sidewalks. Homes built at the turn of the 20th century are beginning to look like their old selves again. The Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. executive director said it's as if a dream is finally turning into reality.

There are plenty of reasons why many historic homes -- four in just the past two months -- that have stood vacant for years are finally selling and being restored, Mrs. Thompson said.

"A lot of people like that historic, small-town quality that we have here in Goldsboro," she said. "We've said it before and now we're proving it. A lot of times what people want is to live in an attractive, small, safe community. A lot of people, especially retirees, are looking for a place that has some of those amenities, but still isn't a big, gigantic city either, with traffic and whatnot."

Maybe it was the unveiling of the Comprehensive Historic Neighborhood Revitalization Plan or the hire of master planner and urban designer Allison Platt that opened people's eyes to the city's potential, she said. Or maybe it was a combination of things that encouraged historic homes enthusiasts to take a chance on downtown.

"I don't think it's any one thing," she said. "But I think the primary thing, to be quite honest, is that community leaders got together to come up with a vision and we're sharing that vision with people. We're marketing it through Preservation N.C. and other forces and we're making it available for people to see."

Many house hunters are learning to narrow down their prospects on the Web, she said. So, it also helps that her office continuously updates pictures of historic homes for sale on the DGDC and PNC Web sites.

At current, seven Goldsboro properties are listed online. One of them recently caught the eye of a retiring couple from British Colombia, Mrs. Thompson said.

And the rest is history. It only took a few days in town with the DGDC staff for the couple to buy one of the homes marketed through the PNC site.

"Goldsboro has a nice stock of historic homes," she said. "The reason they liked Goldsboro, for one, is the friendly people they encountered here. But they also liked it because unlike some of the other communities they visited, like New Bern and even Charleston, where it was already so completed in the process. They wanted to be part of the process."

That process of nursing a deteriorating property back to life is little short of an addiction for the small group of preservationists she tries to reach everyday, she added.

"It's an easier audience to attract because it's such a niche market," Mrs. Thompson said. "There's a large group of those people looking for historic homes in historic neighborhoods."

A mere glance at a 19th century Victorian, for example, might be enough to convince some to buy, she added. Others, though, are sold on the idea that the community -- and its leaders -- supports historic restoration efforts.

"Why now? Well, there are community leaders with an interest in doing something," Mrs. Thompson said. "We've now got a shared vision. I'm feeling like all the work, all the stuff we have been working on, is finally coming to fruition. And yes, it's exciting. We've been laying framework and groundwork for five or so years."

And for those who bought the first houses, moving into neighborhoods years ago that might not have been perfect, their investment is finally paying off, she added.

At this rate, Mrs. Thompson said, the foundation laid by those first few will have resulted in neighborhoods many won't recognize in five-plus years.

"I can just imagine what they will think," she said. "The Charlie Gaylors, Randy Sauls' and Joanne LeSaks' of the world really stood the test of time and bucked popular opinions when they started moving in and investing. Obviously, they were ahead of their time and we should commend them for their spirit."