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Newcomers driving new-housing boom

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A flood of newcomers has propelled Mecklenburg, Union and York counties to near the top of the nation's fastest-growing areas in new housing.

Among the new arrivals is Howard Hess, who moved from Maryland into a newly built home in one of Mecklenburg's largest developments, The Palisades near Lake Wylie

"It's pretty amazing how much building is going on here," said Hess, who moved in just before Christmas.

New and longtime residents are flocking to houses, condos and apartments being built in the region, new U.S. Census Bureau figures show. But it's the steady stream of newcomers that ultimately fuels the demand for new homes.

In 2000, 25 percent of buyers of new homes were newcomers to the Charlotte area, said Chuck Graham, a local consultant who tracks residential construction. By last year, that had climbed to 38 percent.

"Newcomers love the idea of a fresh start and often say how much easier it is to make friends in a community where everyone is new," said Maia Williams, president of Builder Services Inc., the branch of Allen Tate Realtors that focuses on new-home sales.

Newcomers -- up to 50,000 to the region per year, according to Wachovia economist Mark Vitner -- have helped keep Charlotte from experiencing the housing market downturn reported last week by the National Association of Realtors.

Mecklenburg gained 11,255 new housing units last year, a figure that includes houses, apartments, condos and mobile homes. That was enough to rank 19th in the nation in the census statistics for total number of new units.

In percentage growth in housing units during the past five years, Union County and York County, in South Carolina, joined Mecklenburg on the list of the nation's fastest-growing markets.

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