Hampton Pitts admits to coveting the exponentially increasing home sales numbers and prices in other parts of the country before the boom suddenly went bust.

"We just didn't have that kind of run up," says the president of Centex Homes' Raleigh-Durham division. "Maybe we were a little envious then and maybe a turnabout now is fair play."

Now, with slowing sales and climbing inventory creating sturm und drang for builders in those bygone hottest national markets, the home building market in Research Triangle area of North Carolina is like the eye of a hurricane–blue-sky calm.

BEACON OF LIGHT: The boom may have passed over the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., market, but that may have saved it from the downturn others are now facing. Photo: Courtesy Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau Sure, there are signs of the storm raging nearby. Some Triangle-area builders are reporting a spike in cancellations created by buyers who couldn't sell their existing homes. And, the statistics aren't showing 2006 to be a huge growth year even for Triangle builders. Starts in the third-quarter '06 for the region were down 8.6 percent over third-quarter '05. And closings were only up 2.3 percent in the third quarter, the smallest year-over-year quarterly increase in three years, according to Metrostudy.

But, overall, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill remains the same kind of market it has been for years–steady and stable, with new-home inventories even down slightly from '05.

"Absent a watershed event, all the vital signs point to a continuation of standout performances by the Triangle's new-home market in the future," writes Ed Dunnavant, director of Metrostudy's North Carolina region in his most recent new-home market report.

Off the Radar

"We are probably in better shape than anywhere else in the country," says Tim Minton, executive officer of the Raleigh-Wake HBA.

Being passed over by the extreme building boom may have saved the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill market from an extreme downturn. The area's steady versus heady rise in home sales prices kept the short-term investors at bay, leaving a market that was building homes to match true demand.

"Because we didn't go as high, we didn't have as much of an imbalance between supply and demand," says Nick Tennyson, executive vice president of the HBA of Durham, Orange, and Chatham Counties.

And, thanks to an amazingly diverse economy, a growing list of major new businesses moving to town, still-affordable homes, a favorable central location two hours from the beach and three to four hours to the mountains, and a temperate four-season climate, there's no shortage of true home buyer demand in the Triangle area.

The area grew by 27,000 jobs in the first eight months of last year. And the empty-nester parents of many of the new jobholders are moving to town, too, following their children and grandchildren, and increasing the demand for active adult housing.

"We have a lot of young people who come here to work in the various electronics and pharmaceutical industries, and they've got trailing parents – who move here to be close to their grandchildren," says Tennyson. "There's now a Del Webb community being built here that's kind of a formal recognition of what's going on."

Economic Supports

The foundation of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill's economy is built on two rock-solid entities: government–Raleigh is the state capital–and a slew of universities, including several powerhouses–Duke University in Durham, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to providing steady reliable employment, the plethora of universities guarantees a more educated citizenry as well as easy access to a great deal of research and development talent, major drawing cards to industry.

"That is a key to us" in attracting industry, says Ted Abernathy, executive vice president of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. "We have to be a world leader in intellectual capacity. We are never going to be the low-cost place for production, but what we can be is a place where innovation continues to happen."

"We get criticized every once in awhile for being a little geeky," Abernathy admits. "But I do know that intellectual talent moves where there is other intellectual talent."

The 120,000 or so students in town also make for a quite diverse population. "Durham is certainly more liberal than Raleigh," Abernathy says. "But we've got blue counties, we've got red counties, and we've got purple counties."

The region's economic development recruiters have more to sell than the intellectual talent, he says. "For a quality of life and the cost of living factors, it's hard to beat for a tech region because the other tech regions–Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco–are two or three times as expensive. Here a four-bedroom house still averages $250,000."

And for sports fans, the area's offerings have expanded beyond its legendary college basketball teams to the professional sports arena with the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, the reigning Stanley Cup champs, which has locals trying to figure out the protocol for storage and transport of the Cup as well as who gets to hold it and for how long. "We're not sure what to do with the Cup. We are learning," says Minton.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Durham, NC, Raleigh, NC.