DESTINATION SANFORD: Schools, small-town charm rank among city's selling points

Jun. 12, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Bigger isn't always better.

That's what some locals in who specialize in convincing new people to live and work in Sanford say they tell people who are choosing between this area and more urban centers like Fayetteville, Raleigh or Durham.

Lisa York is an experienced salesperson, serving as president of the Sanford Area Association of Realtors as well as an auctioneer and real estate agent for large local firm Adcock and Associates.

"Most of the people [looking at buying a home here] are asking about restaurants, job stability, schools ... and how far is it from the Triangle," York said.

And she said that when people have those requirements, the area pretty much sells itself — especially with the schools.

"Dr. [Andy] Bryan, and Dr. [Jeff] Moss before him, have done a great job of getting the schools back to where they need to be," York said, referring to the current and former superintendents of the 10,000-student public school district.

Bob Joyce, chairman of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, said that schools are also one of the key selling points he uses when talking to business leaders who are considering a move.

"We lead with that all the time," said Joyce, whose organization's main focus is recruiting people and businesses to move here. "Our public schools are some of the best in the state."

He said that's partly due to the district's small size. It allows more interaction between parents and educators, he said, in addition to allowing school leaders to innovate more easily with technological programs and community partnerships.

By and large, both York and Joyce said, most of the young and middle-age people moving here are working either at Fort Bragg or in the Triangle, seeking out the low cost of living and quieter atmosphere of Lee County.

Joyce said the same house in Sanford or in Raleigh will cost about 30 percent less in Sanford. The homes York's company is selling range from $33,000 to $1.5 million, according to online listings. She said most buyers want to live in west Sanford, where nice houses typically cost $150,000 to $400,000.

York said that in addition to families moving here for work, she has seen more retirees looking to move away from the Northeast or Midwest. This past year's historically cold winter was simply the last straw from some older people, she said. Sanford is one of just a handful of official North Carolina retirement communities, which has led many retirees to look here, both York and Joyce said.

Joyce said that once retirees find Sanford because of that status, some are further drawn in by the quality area golf courses, the ability to buy large pieces of property for a relatively cheap cost, and natural attractions like the Deep River. York said that for others, it's entertainment that seals the deal.

"People love Temple Theatre," York said. "And those folks have done a great job of getting folks to move to the area."

Joyce said that Raleigh's booming economy has helped as well. One typical story: A young professional gets a job at RTP and moves his or her family to Cary. Parents and in-laws come visit and eventually think about moving here themselves. They want to be near their grandkids, but they aren't sure they want to move to a metropolitan area like Raleigh or a sprawling suburb like Cary. That's where Sanford comes in, Joyce said.

"We have good values; we're a generous community; we care about each other," Joyce said. "You can see that in the number of nonprofits, golf tournaments, fish fries, you name it. ... In contrast, where Raleigh sells subdivisions and shopping, we're selling neighborhoods and churches and involvement. That's the big difference that I see."

Another local real estate agent, Janet Chilton, echoed that sentiment.

"It has been my experience when working with people who are relocating to this area that if the parents actively participate in their children's lives in sports, school, church and the community, they will enjoy living in Sanford where neighbors get to know neighbors," she wrote in an email.

Some locals do complain about a lack of shopping, Joyce said, adding that that's really just code for not having a Target. He said there are more than enough local businesses and non-Target big box stores for anyone to find what they need. More pertinent areas for improvement, he said, would be creating more opportunities for meetings and conventions, as well as ramping up youth sports.

But Chilton would disagree on at least one of those claims. She wrote that Sanford's youth sports programs have always had good participation. In fact, local youth baseball teams have made it to several state championships.

"This was with the support of parents who attended the games [and] behaved as adults, and the children who learned under this type of leadership are now our leaders in the community," she said.

Coming next: In Friday's Herald, read about people who never needed to be convinced to move to Sanford because they grew up in Lee County and chose to stay.