Tanner Gray’s long history with Topsail Island began with a summer vacation. Now he loves helping people who’ve fallen in love with the island find a home here too.

Originally from Long Valley, New Jersey, Tanner Gray spent his earliest summers at the Jersey Shore, before his parents decided to venture farther south. In 1994 Gray’s mother randomly selected Topsail Island on a map, and the family fell in love with the small beach community on their first visit. Within a year, Gray’s parents built a second home in North Topsail Beach, and for the next decade he spent his summers appreciating all the coastal town had to offer.

“I’ve always loved being at the beach, but Topsail was so different from the beaches in New Jersey,” Gray says.

“I had my own little 13-foot Boston Whaler, and I loved having access to the sound and getting to fish and surf so close to where we lived.”

Gray spent his teenage years back and forth between school in New Jersey and summers on Topsail Island. He graduated from Randolph Macon College in Virginia in 2002, and soon afterward decided to move full-time to Topsail, following a moment of clarity while stuck in rush-hour traffic.

Tanner Gray Family Surf City NC

“I was working as an account manager for an insulation company back in New Jersey and was doing really well, but I just remember my commute,” Gray says. “One Friday afternoon a client had me go to a job in North Jersey, which was 9 miles away on the Garden State Parkway. It took me three hours to get home, and I remember sitting there realizing this was not what I was meant to do with the rest of my life.”

Gray moved to Surf City in 2004. After a short stint working in the restaurant industry, he began his real estate career as a long-term property manager for Century 21 Action, Inc. Over the next four years, he grew the department from roughly 40 properties to more than 120, before switching over to the vacation rental management division. Both sides of the business gave Gray a wealth of experience and knowledge when it came to the area’s real estate market and an expertise that shows in his current career path in sales.

“Although it wasn’t the easiest job, I really enjoyed assisting people with realistic expectations in regards to property management,” Gray says.

“It’s one of those careers where people either thrive in it or they don’t, and there’s no in-between. It gave me a really good basis and understanding of the area and real estate in general.”

In 2018 Gray decided he’d done enough in property management and was ready to move on to sales. Within two months, he earned the distinction of top-producing agent in the firm, and his success followed him to his current role with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage. Gray credits his achievements to his ability to give customers the right advice based off his knowledge and professionalism.

Surf City Tanner Gray NC

“I really don’t care about the volume or dollar amount of business that I do, because it’s the transactions I like and helping my clients make good decisions to reach their goals,” he says. “I’ve honestly turned business away because they wanted me to list properties at a price that’s too high, and I won’t do that because it won’t sell.”

Gray absolutely loves where he lives, which is why he’s passionate about helping others love living here too. His favorite aspects of the island include its diversity, not only of its people but also in its climate and recreational offerings.

“We have really hot summers, and sometimes we even get a little snow,” he says. “I enjoy being able to go offshore fishing one day, then hunting the next, or into Wilmington, which is a great little city. Topsail’s a very unique place because it’s not overcrowded, even though some might argue it’s getting overpopulated. Hearing that just makes me think about when I used to go to the Jersey Shore and everyone would be sitting four or five feet away from the person next to them. It’s not like that here.”

Gray embraces the fact that more people are coming to the island in hopes of making it home. He believes each of the three townships has something different to offer, from the residential community of North Topsail Beach to the bustling, commercial offerings of Surf City to the historic feel of the southernmost town of Topsail Beach.

“People are drawn to the island because it’s got a family atmosphere and is a great place to raise kids,” he says. “I love it when people say the secret’s out, because there’s no secret to Topsail Island. It’s always been this way, and a lot of people who’ve been here for 20 or 30 years still feel the same way about the island. They love it.”

Gray says he himself could never picture living any place else.

“At first it was the location, but now it’s more about the connection of people I’ve met,” he says. “It’s the unique group of people here who really make the island what it is.”

When not out selling houses, most of Gray’s time is spent fishing, hunting or relaxing with his wife and three young children. He also enjoys golfing, a sport he took up at age 15 after slicing all the ligaments and tendons in his left ankle on an oyster bed during one summer vacation on the island. The injury left him wheelchair-bound for three months and forced him to trade his passion for soccer for a successful stretch in high school and college golf.

Gray also cruises the island in the Toyota FJ Cruiser he outfitted to look like an old Woody, a marketing strategy he hopes will help give people a taste of the island lifestyle.

“People get a sense of freedom and relaxation when they cross the bridge and get to the beach,” Gray says. “That carefree island feeling allows them to forget their problems, and I want to help them make smart decisions when it comes to living here. I plan on being here for a long time, so I don’t want to give somebody bad advice. I’d rather have the reputation of being the guy who knows exactly what he’s doing to help you, versus the guy that knows how to sell you.”

Photos by Unique Media & Design

About the author

Annesophia Richards

Annesophia Richards

After spending a decade as an English teacher in Florida, I moved to Wilmington in 2014 to be closer to family. I now spend my time freelance writing, working as a school interventionist and raising two very energetic children. I love exploring all that makes North Carolina such a beautiful state and travelling as much as my family and time allow! My writing appears in various local area publications. In my free time I tend to read or go for a run, and I also love competing in creative writing contests. I’ve received awards for several pieces of flash fiction. My ability to tell a good tale is a talent that I use nightly when tucking my kids in with a bedtime story.