OBX: The Big Houses
BOOMER's Paula Neely takes a look at several of the OBX's mega homes.
Since the 1990s, the number of luxurious mega homes on the Outer Banks of North Carolina has steadily increased in an effort to meet the growing demand for homes where families and other large groups can gather under one roof for vacations, reunions, weddings and business retreats.
From Corolla to Hatteras Island, there are now about 100 oceanfront mansions with 10 to 24 bedrooms. More are built each year, and they’re getting bigger and better.
The trend started when eight-bedroom homes were first constructed on Pine Island in the early 1990s, as North Carolina Highway 12 was extended from Duck to Corolla, according to Amit Gupta, president of SAGA Construction and Development.
“People wondered if they would ever rent,” he said. The surprising demand for them inspired increasingly bigger homes. In recent years, some families have booked two 16-bedroom homes, Gupta said.
THAT ‘WOW’ FACTOR
Initially, the appeal of the larger homes was the number of bedrooms. “Now it’s all about the amenities,” Gupta said.
Standard features typically include multiple master suites, elevators, theater rooms with surround sound and tiered seating, heated pools, hot tubs, cabanas, game rooms with pool tables and shuffleboard, flat-screen televisions in every room, and private boardwalks with dune top decks or covered gazebos.
Some homes also offer basketball and volleyball courts and indoor putting greens.
Large gourmet kitchens with multiple ovens, ranges, dishwashers and refrigerators (BOOMER counted seven in one house) are featured in expansive great rooms overlooking the ocean.
Seating and tableware is available for as many people as each house can sleep. “It’s ideal for Thanksgiving,” says Julie Short, marketing coordinator for Carolina Designs Realty.
Home features are continuing to evolve based on feedback from renters. One example: People have asked for different gathering areas so they can spread out more. “Now every level has a gathering area,” Short said.
Although most bedrooms are master suites, they tend to be smaller and not as ornate in newer homes. “People don’t spend a lot of time in the bedrooms, so there’s more emphasis now on the ‘wow’ factor of the common areas,” she said.
For example, at “Magnolia Cay,” a 16-bedroom home managed by Carolina Designs Realty, an airy two-story great room features dramatic oceanfront views, an oversize glass-tiled gas fireplace, gourmet kitchen, several cozy conversation areas, media lounges and a casino-quality card table. Glass doors open onto a spacious deck overlooking a heated pool and covered deck with an outdoor kitchen, wet bar, sauna and hot tub.
Other improvements include twinkling fiber optic ceilings in theater rooms and pools with swim-up bars and submerged “mothers’ ” benches between shallow and deep ends.
“It’s surprising how intimate these homes are, and how well they are designed to meet the needs of different age groups,” Short said. Gupta said that SAGA is currently focusing on enhancing indoor/outdoor living spaces, including saunas, grilling areas and outdoor bedrooms. The builder is also installing glass doors that fold up like an accordion for an unobstructed wide-open view of the Atlantic in great rooms.
Some new SAGA homes also include swim spas, where you can swim against a current for exercise; see-through fireplaces between the oceanfront master bedroom and bath; hidden rooms; and golf simulators.
During the summer, mega homes are usually fully booked – mostly by families. In the fall, rents drop by about 75 percent, and the use shifts to women’s getaways, golf and fishing vacations, corporate retreats, weddings and Thanksgiving gatherings. Weekly rates start at around $1,750.
Short said a group of women between their 40s and 80s, known as “The Duckies,” have gathered for a reunion in Duck every year for the past 16 years at the same house.
Shoppers love browsing through independently owned boutiques, art galleries and outlets. They can also visit several wineries and indulge in a massage, skin care and body treatments at the Sanderling Inn or several other spas.
“It’s a great time to be here,” said Doug Brindley, owner of Brindley Beach Vacations and Sales. “There are no crowds. The weather is just as good in September and October as it is in the summer, and the water is not as cold as it is in the spring,” he said.
Fall also features seafood, bluegrass, jazz and wildlife festivals, fishing tournaments and marathons.
Homes on the Currituck Sound are also popular in the fall, Short said. Many have private piers where visitors can fish and crab. You can also enjoy paddle boarding, kayaking and sunset views.
NEW MEGA HOME CONSTRUCTION
SAGA builds about a dozen mega homes each year, and they can’t find enough lots to meet the demand for construction, according to Gupta. He said 70 percent of new homes are built on lots where existing homes are torn down. Community restrictions vary throughout the Outer Banks and limit the number of bedrooms and the size of homes.
For example, in Nags Head, the number of bedrooms can’t exceed eight, while in Currituck there aren’t any limits. Gupta said the homes are usually built as investment properties and are rented all year except for a few weeks that are used by the owners. He said a 16-bedroom home costs about $2.8 million and can generate about $400,000 in rental income each year. Demand is so great that some mega homes are rented for 30 weeks before construction is completed.
Although mega homes are predominantly used as wedding venues, interest in using them for business retreats and team building is an emerging market that some real estate companies and developers hope to grow.
“I think it will explode,” Gupta said. “The houses are more flexible and offer a different kind of experience that you can’t duplicate in a hotel.”
Jenny Myatt, marketing director for Village Realty, says the amenities appeal to businesses, and the value is especially good in the offseason. The price per night per bedroom can dip to about $50, and there’s a better selection of available homes.
Last fall, Today’s Momma, a network of “mom bloggers,” held a three-day photograph-focused “Click retreat” in October at two side-by-side 16-bedroom oceanfront homes – the “Caribbean Jewel” and “Magnolia Cay” in Kill Devil Hills. Previously, the conference had always been at a hotel.
Everyone had a private bedroom and there was a variety of large and small gathering areas inside and outside for team-building, bonding and relaxing, according to Short, who pitched the idea to conference organizers.
Projection screens were available for presentations and a computer workstation was set up in one of the lofts. A hired cook prepared breakfast each day, box lunches were served and themed dinners were catered at each of the houses.
Offsite activities included wild horse tours, hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge, the Wright Brothers’ tour, sea kayaking and tours of the Elizabethan Gardens.
Based on an exit survey, all of the participants by far preferred meeting at the beach houses instead of a hotel, according to Short. “It’s a more inspiring environment, and it provides a different perspective for problem solving,” she said.
Paula Neely is a Richmond-based writer and public relations consultant.