Home, James Families, professionals find agreeable neighborhoods and well-valued dwellings between Wappoo Creek and Folly Beach

A double porch and wide stairs distinguish this traditional home on the market in Fort Johnson Estates on James Island.

Realtors versed in the James Island housing market agree; selective buyers and value-conscious sellers can strike alluring deals this year.

But there’s a catch. Owners and shoppers need to be patient in a place where demand outstrips supply.

The creek-encircled village, set near downtown and less pricey than East Cooper, emerged in 2016 as an outsized real estate player. Agents dub the island’s residential market a heavyweight. “Yes, very strong,” says Eric Draper, owner of Charleston Real Estate Group — who’s lived 23 years on the island or neighboring Folly Beach. But popularity also brings home availability shortages.

“The last time I looked, James Island had the lowest amount of inventory (in the area) — two months,” he points out. “They say six months is a balanced market. It’s definitely tight,” he says.

Draper notes that real estate activity “becomes even tighter on James Island when you need a four-bedroom house” and want to live in one of the most prized elementary school zones.

Greater James Island boasts a population of more than 20,000 people from the edges of Charleston Harbor to the Folly River. The recent real estate surge stems from its more affordable prices and proximity to area amenities such as the Atlantic Ocean and historic Charleston.

Yet in examining James Island’s emergence as a hot market, housing figures offer mixed signals. The island counted 911 home sales last year, up just 5.7 percent from 2014, the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors posts. Median sales prices in 2015 rose a healthy 8.2 percent to $281,400, and the average house value leaped 12.6 percent. Homes stayed on the market for 29.4 percent fewer days last year, the fifth highest drop by geographic sector and a precursor of the inventory slide.

At the same time, new construction in James Island amounted to 12.4 percent of the market in 2015, placing a moderate 12th highest. The single-family market share ranked 10th, meaning there’s some scarcity of condos and townhomes.

Karla Leahy, associate with Harbor City Real Estate Advisors, believes owners who put their homes on the market can rack up a fair profit if they upgrade their properties sufficiently before sale. James Island tallies numerous long-established neighborhoods, so many homes are older and might need work.

Prospective buyers definitely will bite “if you are well-priced and you’ve done all you can to bring (the home) up to standard,” she says. “You’ll have 16 showings, several offers and (then) call it a day.”

Leahy describes the case of one young couple she sold a home to on James Island nine years ago. “They started making upgrades four years ago,” she says. The work included enclosing the crawl space, new landscaping, fixing gutters and replacing the roof — totaling $9,000.

The house went on the market this year and landed a contract at a price that’s higher than the owners paid at the top of the market in 2007, Leahy points out.

James Island has a location advantage for working individuals and families; it’s 15-20 minutes from employment hubs.

The community also sits near plenty of attractions, Leahy says.

James Island can claim waterways, parks and golf courses. The village also features creekside home sites, wooded lots and land tracts anchored by avenues of oaks.

Another James Island real estate proponent is Michele Miller, agent with Berkshire Hathaway Carolina Sun.

“Those people who live on James Island want to stay on James Island,” she says.

The community sits proximate to the beach. And, “I think people forget how close it is to downtown,” Miller says, notably to MUSC via the James Island connector.

She’s seen values move up but not drastically. The area has a “more moderate price range, more home for the money,” Miller says.

Draper, of Charleston Real Estate Group lists a 3,500-square-foot house on Woodland Shores Road, priced at $589,220. He contends that similar homes in Mount Pleasant would list for $100,000 higher.

His adopted home town has its share of friendly residents, too. “That’s part of the beauty being on James Island,” he says. “It’s more personable.”

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.