New status gives Sanford edge in attracting retirees

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

With hundreds of people across the country looking for a pleasant place to spend their golden years, Sanford now has an advantage in convincing them to settle locally.

When the city of Sanford applied earlier this year to be named an official North Carolina retirement community, a distinction it now shares with just five other cities, it paid $10,000 to the state but also received a number of perks. Included are marketing help from the state's tourism board and commerce department, as well as prominence at national functions and conferences for retirees.

A list provided by the AARP, for instance, has the contact information of 457 people across the nation who said they were specifically interested in moving to Sanford or one of the state's other retirement communities: Pittsboro, Mt. Airy, Marion, Asheboro and Lumberton.

Locally, the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce has that list, and chamber President Bob Joyce said he'll give it to the chamber members who would benefit from it. It's chamber-only, he said, in order to ensure that any communication is organized, efficient and doesn't inundate people with emails and possibly turn them off from the idea of living here.

One of the areas that could see a large amount of interest is Carolina Trace. Al Rushatz, broker in charge at Carolina Trace Gated Properties, said that while that development is home to a wide variety of residents, it does indeed have a strong base of retirees. Having that list, he said, could be very good for business.

"We welcome them with open arms," he said. "... It depends what they want, but we have a lot of great things in the Sanford area."

Rushatz's real estate company is a chamber member, so he'll likely be one of those with access to the email list. Joyce said he'll be distributing it soon, and that he also suspects the 457 people on the list are only the tip of the iceberg.

"We expect to get this many every quarter," Joyce said. "We're hoping for a lot of interest."

But not everyone is convinced that simply being able to contact people interested in retiring to one of the state's certified communities will necessarily translate to migration into Sanford specifically. Pam Gordon, president of the Sanford Area Association of Realtors, is one such person.

"I think that Lee County would be a great destination for retirees," she said. "I don't see that we have a large inventory of homes they might be looking for, though."

Gordon, whose real estate practice is a chamber member, said knowing that many people are interested in moving to a small number of North Carolina cities could be good news for developers, since demand appears to outpace supply.

"Most retirees are looking for a place they can move in and have the yards maintained, have other amenities like walking trails, and right now, I'm not seeing it," Gordon said. "I'm just not seeing it."

Bob Bridwell, director of the Sanford-Lee County Planning Board, said Sanford sprung for the $10,000 fee to be named a certified retirement community because of the potential for growth. And as for the possible need for new development, as Gordon mentioned, Bridwell said utilities and other infrastructure have already been extended to many undeveloped areas.

He and others have been anticipating spillover from Wake County for years, Bridwell said. While that hasn't arrived in force yet, Bridwell said advance preparations mean the county is ready for unanticipated growth. He also noted that there are about 5,000 buildable lots in the county.

"Sanford-Lee County is more than ready to accommodate growth — more than ready." Bridwell said. "We've been working on that for years."

Rushatz, though — who was on the committee Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive created to look into becoming a certified retirement community — said the area isn't completely unable to accommodate those wanting to move immediately. Many homes are available in various parts of the county, he said, adding with world-class recreation, hospitals, shopping and entertainment in town or within a short drive, Sanford is as good a destination as any.

"If you're going to retire here, you've got everything you need," he said.