Island real estate: Stewart Couch called it

(File Photo Credit: Neel Keller)

I would like to introduce myself to the good readers of the Island Free Press. My name is Stephen Smith and I lived (and worked) in Avon for several years before finally migrating ‘on the beach’ to Nags Head. I was the CIO of Hatteras Realty and worked for the late Stewart Couch for most of my tenure there. It was only in the last few years that I decided to change careers from technology to real estate, and I still use technology as a real estate agent!

There are many stories about Stewart Couch as he had a big impact on many beach lives and was a beloved figure at every Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA) conference and meeting we attended . But I want to pay tribute to him by telling how intuitive and insightful he was when it came to the real estate and vacation rental markets on Hatteras Island.

I remember being in a meeting with him at Avon’s office, and someone asked him what was the first thing they could do to grow the vacation rental side of Hatteras Realty. He immediately responded to what I thought was an oddly simplistic answer, and for some reason it stuck with me.

“The best way to develop the rental side is for a wave of new visitors to vacation here. We only need them once to vacation here and most of them will want to come back every year.

I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or looking for ways to achieve this, but I just remember thinking his response was a bit…weird. Was this really the company’s grand plan for growth?

Fast forward to spring 2020. COVID cases are starting to rise and much of the country is shutting down to slow the spread. Flying is getting harder, overseas travel is slowing down, cruise lines are closed and people have been locked down for weeks.

I remember when Dare County was closed to visitors for a few weeks in the spring and I wondered what would happen to the summer rental season in 2020. The owners were very worried about what this summer would be like . What I didn’t expect was that as soon as the roads reopened, a flood of first-time visitors decided to vacation at a destination by car rather than by plane. They could stroll on our beautiful beaches and enjoy the salty air and sunshine after being cooped up for weeks.

And now, in the spring of 2022, looking back, I realize how visionary Stewart was. It’s unfortunate that this happened due to COVID, but it went exactly as he planned. A wave of new visitors vacationed here, and they loved it, and booked a week in 2021, and many will be back in 2022. Some will be lifelong vacationers and return here every year.

After witnessing two years of record occupancy collections, National Seashore visitation records, and vacation rental company revenue growth, I understand exactly what he was talking about now. He knew we had the perfect vacation spot. He knew he would sell himself to anyone who ventured onto the Bonner Bridge. They just needed to take a chance and book a Hatteras Island vacation.

So over to you, Mr. Couch. It didn’t happen exactly the way we wanted it to, but you knew exactly what would happen if it did. You called him.

Stephen Smith is an Outer Banks Realtor with Coldwell Banker Seaside Realty. He was recognized in 2021 as one of the top 10% Coldwell Banker agents in the world. He has lived on the Outer Banks for nearly 20 years and met his lovely wife on Hatteras Island. They currently reside in Nags Head with their daughter, but Hatteras Island is still home in many ways. For any questions on the Hatteras real estate market or larger OBX, you can contact Stephen directly at or 252-216-9230. His website is or you can receive his weekly newsletter by subscribing to


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