Maybe seven years ago, local IT guy Chuck Waugh drove into The Ponds one day, curious about the new neighborhood on the Summerville area's western edge.
He was struck by the tall oaks, the farmhouse being restored, the natural bodies of water. Then Waugh checked prices for the custom-built homes. He remembers thinking, "I've got to get out here."
Waugh chuckles, noting that it wasn't quite as dramatic as all that. But he also says that he and his wife wound up in a much more affordable, and much smaller, 1,200-square-foot house in Goose Creek.
By 2009, the couple was back looking, this time with a three-year-old in tow. They scoured a half-dozen or so communities in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Yet no neighborhood had quite the mix they wanted: moderate price, decent size and quiet layout where a three-year-old could play without cars zipping by.
Then they decided to look at The Ponds again. Still idyllic, the neighborhood had morphed big time. The national housing market tanked just as The Ponds' custom plans were launched. The developer shifted gears, bringing in new-home builders offering attractive but not as expensive, or quite as specialized, dwellings. Still, less than 20 residences had been framed.
The Waughs were drawn to two adjacent homes on the market. After negotiating, they bought a John Wieland home with "a huge porch and double doors" originally listed at $499,000. "We ended up in the mid $300,000s," he says.
The information technology specialist says he's pleased with the home-buying decision, citing the friendly nature of the community. "The whole reason we wanted to move into The Ponds, we saw people early on, neighbors interacting." What's different today, he says, is the village's growth, from 16 or 18 families three years ago to as many as 200 now.
"It's changed a lot in terms of the sheer number of people," Waugh says. But The Ponds has stayed a place where residents can walk up to the farmhouse area at 8:30 p.m. or so as the fire pit's going, have a drink and feel "really welcome," he says.
The Waugh family's home-shopping experience in the Summerville area is not that unusual, considering the steady pace with which the town of 45,000 people and outlying neighborhoods have expanded in the past few years.
The latest housing report from the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors listed Summerville-Ridgeville as the most active home sales sector in Dorchester County last month, claiming 55 percent of sales at a median price of $195,000 compared with a $171,150 midpoint for the county as a whole.
Also, in 2013, the Dorchester Road corridor and greater Summerville area placed ninth and 10th in new construction market share at 20.6 percent and 20.2 percent respectively.
Brian Wagner can attest to those upbeat figures.
"Actually we are really seeing positive action in terms of sales," says Wagner, division sales manager for D.R. Horton in the Charleston area.
The Texas-based homebuilder, one of the largest in the country, actively sells homes in five Summerville area neighborhoods: Carriage Lane off Main Street east of Interstate 26, Heritage at Pine Forest and Legacy at Pine Forest off Butternut Road, Hickory Ridge west of Old Orangeburg Road and The Ponds and Carillon at The Ponds active adult community, both off U.S. Highway 17A west of Summerville.
At the same time, D.R. Horton has sold out all but one home in Fieldview on Summerville's southern edge and all but three in The Club at Legend Oaks off S.C. Highway 61.
"I venture to say the $250,000 and above market is doing extremely well," Wagner says. "The move up, second home and up buyers are really on fire now."
Even with a steady supply of Summerville area homes yet to sell, D.R. Horton continues to eye more property, he says.
"I am literally going out looking at large parcels in (greater) Summerville," Wagner says. "It's really a bedroom community."
D.R. Horton is hardly the only player in the market, either. To name a few, Beazer Homes has raised neighborhoods at Felder Creek and Drakesborough and Dan Ryan Builders just unveiled its new Ashley Forest community off Dorchester Road at Tyvola Drive.
Just as builders are witnessing a construction increase, local Realtors are seeing existing home sales climb, too - sometimes in tremendous bursts.
"I got into real estate in February 2008, which was the apocalypse. Starting last year, we saw this incredible boom," says Amy Nienstedt, agent with Carolina One Real Estate who's listing homes in Legend Oaks among other places.
"Last year, we saw a 150 percent increase," she says. "It was insane."
She reasons the sales surge took place because interest rates were still on the low side, home prices hadn't jumped yet and financing loosened up for the first time in years.
Nienstedt says the Summerville market has leveled off a bit but is still seeing a 30 percent increase year to year in sales and 4-6 percent in prices. "I've had people tell me on Christmas Eve" they were ready to buy a house, she says.
The hottest types of properties now, likely because there's a shortage, are one-story homes and houses with in-ground pools, she says.
As for neighborhoods, "I can't really pinpoint one spot in Summerville that's hot. Every part is hot," Nienstedt says.
At the same time, she doesn't see the market overheating. "Based on what we are seeing, prices are increasing at a more healthy pace that in 2004, '05 and '06" - the run-up to the housing crisis in 2007 and 2008.
"It's better (with steady price gains) than having the big boom, then you have the drop," Nienstedt says.
Meanwhile, Colorado transplant Alecia Good says she's satisfied with her home in The Ponds, acquired three years ago. "We have young kids," she says, and the neighborhood, with its many trails, reminds her of communities in the Rocky Mountain state.
Good works at the YMCA, and she's impressed it's within walking and biking distance.
"It seems like Summerville is growing this direction," she says, noting that a supermarket chain has looked at building a store at U.S. Highway17A near the entrance to The Ponds. "I'm excited."
To reach metro Summerville from downtown Charleston, travel west on I-26. Exits include 209A for Ashley Phosphate Road to Dorchester Road, 205A for U.S. Highway 78 to Ladson Road, 203A for College Park Road and 199A and B for western Summerville, downtown and the Berkeley County side of town including Carnes Crossroads and Cane Bay.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUMMERVILLE AT A GLANCE:
Location: Dorchester, Berkeley, Charleston counties
Number of homes: More than 10,000
Square footage: 631-6,310
Look & feel: A semi-secluded town 50 years ago, Summerville in succeeding years spread out south to border North Charleston, east across Interstate 26 and more recently north and west across the Ashley River. New-homebuilders zero in on the community, which has relatively inexpensive land costs and ties into major thoroughfares. At the same time, Summerville's maintained its "Flowertown" village allure and hosts the Azalea Festival in early spring. Families are attracted to the area by well-thought-of schools and close-by major employers. Downtown Summerville touts 19th century history among shaded avenues and a central square. Retail plazas such as Azalea Square grace the outskirts. The town draws beyond its official limits: far-flung places such as Cane Bay and Wescott are listed in Summerville. Newer properties run west to S.C. Highway 61, north to Jedburg and Ridgeville, east to Carnes Crossroads off U.S. Highway 176 and south to the Ladson Road area.
Homes on market: 1,223
List prices: $25,500-$3.9 million
Schools: Beech Hill, Eagle Nest, Flowertown, Joseph R. Pye, Knightsville, Newington, Oakbrook, Spann, Summerville, William Reeves, Windsor Hill Arts Infused elementary; Alston, DuBose, Gregg, Oakbrook, River Oaks, Rollings of the Arts middle; Ashley Ridge, Fort Dorchester, Summerville high.
Fun facts: The town's population jumped sixfold in 20 years from 3,839 in 1970 to 22,519 in 1990; it's now around 45,000; the Berkeley County part of Summerville is on the town's east side, while the town crosses into Charleston County along Gahagan and Jamison roads.
The Bluffton is one of the models from D.R. Horton at Carillon, a new gated neighborhood for active adults at The Ponds (Provided).×
Bay windows encapsulate this striking two-story home at Felder Creek off Interstate 26 (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
A chubby cat sits on the front stoop of this house at White Gables on Summerville’s western side (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Skateboarding and bike riding youngsters head down a low hill at Ashborough (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Stainless steel appliances provide contrast in the kitchen at 600 Cane Mill Court (Provided).×
A young girl gets ready to fish in this pond in Lakeview at Ashborough. The neighborhood’s off Dorchester Road (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
A trio of houses from Beazer Homes make a semi-circle on this cul de sac at Felder Creek (Provided).×
The red door accentuates this three-tier residence at Legend Oaks (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
An oak tree overhangs this Lowcountry style house at Ashborough East (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Amenities at The Club at Pine Forest include tennis courts (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
This two story house from Beazer Homes stands as a model at Felder Creek, located on the northeast edge of the Summerville area (Provided).×
A great room with fireplace stands out at 600 Cane Mill Court in Legend Oaks. The house also counts a second-floor balcony (Provided).×
Mungo Homes built these row houses around a village green at The Ponds, located off U.S. Alternate Highway 17 in Dorchester County (File/Leroy Burnell/Staff).×
A mansard roof distinguishes this house in the woods at Ashborough (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Brick accents enliven this home at Legend Oaks — which while west of the Ashley River is considered in the Summerville area (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
This mailbox at an Ashborough home is made to look like a small brick house (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Winding staircase and tile floors mark the entrance to 600 Cane Mill Court (Provided).×
The Northbrook model is a David Weekley Homes floor plan at The Ponds near Summerville (File/Leroy Burnell/Staff).×
A homeowner checks her mail at Pine Forest Country Club, an upscale existing neighborhood off West Butternut Road (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
White Gables, off Central Avenue near Summerville, displays a large swanky clubhouse (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×