Island Life – Really?

An Incredible Place

HI Aerial 1

A barrier island, Hatteras Island is a narrow strip of sand, accessible on the northern end from Nags Head via the Bonner Bridge. To get here from the south requires hours on a ferry.  There are six villages (we say village here, not town) starting with Rodanthe to the north and ending at Hatteras to the south. In between are (north to south): Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton and Frisco. All of the villages are unincorporated, so we just fall under Dare County rules. It is a rural place that has lots of visitors during the summer. Island population is around 4,000 (according to Wikipedia and the 2000 census). I’m unclear on the distance from north to south, but it’s 50-70 miles. As the picture shows, it’s narrow. Wikipedia says it’s 33 square miles, which means the average width is around a half mile. The Atlantic Ocean lies to the east and the Pamlico Sound is on the west.

The strong presence of the National Park Service is both a blessing and a curse. This is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Park Service calls the shots on all beaches (more on this later). This is where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream meet the cool waters of the Labrador Current, which makes for turbulent waters and good fishing.

The Island’s feeling of remoteness attracted us here while running others away. I hope to do the place justice as I work my way through this blog.

How We Got Here

It’s been slightly more than a year since we moved. We started vacationing here about 20 years ago and over time it started feeling more like home than home, which was Lexington, Kentucky. Lesa and I worked for a small Australian-owned company out of a small office in Lexington, and I gradually spent more and more time working from home. Phone time with western customers and our sister company near Calgary, Alberta, in the Mountain Time Zone, and frequent calls with the Australian office, meant either being at the office at night or working from home. Over eight years in that office we had one customer darken our door.

The parent company finally came to its senses in 2015 and decided we should work from home just like the other U.S. employees. The timing coincided with our initial discussions (which we thought were pie-in-the-sky dreaming) about relocating to The Island. The thought process included two parts. First, we were getting tired of Lexington for a number of reasons. Second, we wanted to live on Hatteras Island.

We spent Christmas of 2015 (two weeks) in Avon and did our usual things, with a sprinkling of driving by houses for sale. At that point, we had researched little to determine an affordable price range but had a rough idea. Searching on his phone, Lane found the only house we looked at during that trip. Christmas is a slow time of year for real estate agents, and we were lucky the house was listed by a nice lady who I think was happy to have an excuse to get out, regardless of whether or not we had any money or qualified for a loan. It turns out her attitude also foreshadowed what we would learn is typical of Hatteras Islanders.

After looking at the house, which we liked, the pie-in-the-sky dream felt more in reach. It seemed like a star alignment could be underway.

Back in Lexington our research of the critical questions got serious. What was our mortgage pay-off? How much work needed to be done to maximize value? How much could we get? Then there was the fun part, looking at Island homes online.

Things got real. Making improvements and repairs on our house was an ordeal. We hired most of it out, and Lesa’s father was a huge help. The first painter was fired. To cut to the chase, we found a young Hispanic fellow, who knew others, and after a grueling time of living and working in a house while improvements were pounded into place, all the work was completed.

While we were dealing with the home improvements, we quickly got a feel for available houses on Hatteras Island. Avon was our preferred village, but we considered all of Hatteras Island. I got a bit anal with the search, creating a spreadsheet with all possibilities, with columns for critical criteria. For example, we had a dog (more on him later), who needed a yard, and yards aren’t necessarily important at the beach. The spreadsheet grew to 45 houses and was constantly changing as houses moved on and off the market. We made plans to visit in April for a serious look and with the intent of finding our new home.

We developed a good feel for which houses were reasonable priced and which weren’t. The search was encouraging because there seemed to be plenty of houses that would work and some we especially liked. The most encouraging part was we agreed on virtually everything!

We even made an offer on a house Lesa never looked at other than on the internet. One day Zillow alerted us to a new house on the market that seemed to fit everything we wanted. We agreed that if the depiction was accurate, this was the house we were looking for and it was priced to sell. Even though it was still early in the process (our house in Lexington wasn’t even on the market yet) and our planned visit was weeks away, it was decided we shouldn’t wait to look at this house. Since our home improvements were in progress, and Lane was in school, it was decided I would make a mad dash alone (almost 750 miles) to look at the house. While I was there I could look at others with the primary intent of eliminating some of the 45 in the spreadsheet. I would use Google Hangouts so Lesa and Lane could look with me.

The house was just as it appeared on the internet. It had everything in those spreadsheet columns we wanted. I spent the day looking at houses, eliminating several from the list, but always had the first house in the back of my mind. I took a second look the next morning. There was no doubt. This was the house we wanted. The real estate agent suggested I make an offer, but there was one problem.

To this point, I’ve made it seem like all the stars had marched into place and the decision to buy a Hatteras Island home was simple and easy. It wasn’t. This was a big deal…a life changing decision! Lane was 13, in the eighth grade, and making straight A’s. How would the move impact him? (Of course we had discussed and discussed this and were somewhat comfortable it would be good for him, but still…) Our house wasn’t on the market and we were uncertain what it would actually bring. We had every intention to move, but now we were contemplating making an offer to make it happen. Final decisions are not among my strengths!

Yet, we did it. We made an offer contingent on the sale of our house. The seller rejected the offer and accepted another one that came in the same day. Looking back, the disappointment was probably greater than I remember, but there was also some relief because we weren’t quite ready. We regrouped and focused on our trip in April when we would all look at houses.

The rest of the story is anticlimactic. House hunting can be fun but it becomes a grind. After almost two days of looking, we settled on the house we wanted. Our real estate agent was a great help/resource. We experienced the common trials and tribulations in negotiations, but managed to make a deal. (There’s a bit more to this story, but I find myself getting bored with this narrative so the reader probably is as well. If Lesa decides to contribute to this blog, she will probably have much more to say.)

We moved into our Island home June 11, 2016. It’s in the middle of the red circle in the picture below, with the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico sound in view from our living room and deck. It still feels surreal.

cropped-google-earth-view-31.jpg

2 thoughts on “Island Life – Really?

  1. are you not afraid of getting washed away in a big storm? What is your elevation? dow do your children get to school? do they like the school? do you have grocery stores? what is it like during a hurricane?

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    1. He Wendy. Oceanfront houses have washed away in the past and a few are in jeopardy now. Our house is far enough from the ocean that I’m not too worried, but it’s wise to be cautious. Hurricanes and nor’easters shake the house quite a bit (it’s on pilings so the lowest floor is 14 feet off the ground), but it’s not as frightening as you might think – unless you ask the dog, because it terrifies him. My lot elevation is around 10 feet. I have one son and we drive him to school, but riding a bus is an option. He turns 16 this summer so he will probably drive himself this fall. Yes, we have a Food Lion grocery store. Thanks for asking.

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