There's a balancing act going on in Charlotte, a place that embraces its roots and yet charges ahead with change. The city that is obsessed with all things NASCAR also is the country's second-largest financial center. Magnolia-laden estates are a stone's throw away from gleaming ultramodern condo towers. And by the end of next year, you'll be able to take your pick between the historic trolley cars and the new light-rail line. Somehow it all comes together in a comfortable fit.
By the Numbers
Billed as the Queen City of the South, Charlotte boasts a rapidly expanding economy. With 19,100 jobs generated during the year ending in March, the metro's employment base grew by 2.4 percent. Total employment reached 804,100 positions. Economists generally are calling for job growth at or above the 2 percent mark throughout the next five years. While the local economy is quite diverse and resembles the national norm in many ways, there are two notable specialties. Wholesale trade's share of all employment reaches well above the U.S. average, reflecting Charlotte's status as a key transportation hub convenient to the eastern half of the nation's populace. The finance sector also is outsized here, largely because the city serves as home base for both Bank of America and Wachovia. Wholesale trade is 5.8 percent and finance is 8.9 percent. In both cases, that's 1.4 times the U.S. average.
Charlotte's strong economic performance is spurring considerable housing construction. Annual multifamily housing approvals as of March 2006 registered at some 3,100 units, similar to the volume seen over the past few years but only about half the annual level sustained from the middle 1990s through 2000. While condominiums account for less than 10 percent of Charlotte's total multifamily stock, these for-sale units suddenly formed a slight majority of the authorizations issued lately.
With condos taking the lead role in multifamily development, the number of apartments under construction in Charlotte has been reduced to about 1,400 units. The slowdown in production is helping apartment community performances improve. Spring 2006 occupancy was back to 94.8 percent, up more than 5 percentage points from the low of 89.6 percent seen during the first half of 2003. The downturn in occupancy that occurred during 2001 through 2003 was in large part the result of huge numbers of renters taking advantage of low interest rates to buy single-family homes. The National Association of Realtors reports Charlotte's median single-family home price at $183,500, well within reach for much of the populace. The typical price went up about 6 percent during calendar 2005.
Stronger apartment occupancy is beginning to allow operators to raise rents again, though most are approaching price increases very cautiously because the single-family home market remains so active. Effective rents in Charlotte rose 1.9 percent during the year ending in March. Rent growth was considerably better, near 4 percent for the metro's best communities, which also are enjoying a slight occupancy premium.