From the history-steeped streets of Charleston to the state's center of government in downtown Columbia and the growing Grand Strand around Myrtle Beach, building frames continue to rise to meet the growing demand of apartment-dwellers across South Carolina.
Like the rest of the real estate industry, the multifamily market is booming — in some areas more than others, but expanding nonetheless.
Apartment construction is expected to continue its upward trend until next year, when it will peak. But it won’t go away. It will level off, feeding the projected demand of tens of thousands of more units across the Palmetto State over the next 13 years, 13,000 of those in Charleston alone.
A recent study showed the need for 63,000 units throughout South Carolina by 2030. That's in addition to the 222,600 units already on the ground across the state, according to We Are Apartments, an online arm of the National Apartment Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council, which commissioned the report.
In the Midlands, about 3,600 units are proposed for the region, with the bulk of those close to downtown Columbia, according to the Atlanta-based apartment information service RentPath. Of those, about 1,200 are under construction or in the pre-leasing phase.
In Myrtle Beach, slightly more than 600 units are being developed, Christy Dukes, the statewide district sales manager for RentPath, said. Nearly 1,000 more are proposed.
In the Charleston region, the number of new and proposed units eclipses all other areas across the state, including Greenville-Spartanburg, where 3,000 units are under construction and another 3,700 are proposed.
In greater Charleston, more than 7,200 units are being built, putting a dent in the projected demand of about 13,000 more by 2030, according to RentPath. Another 9,400 units are proposed. If they are all built, supply will exceed demand by about 3,000 units.
"That's if they are all built," emphasized Paula Munger, director of industry research and analysis at the National Apartment Association. "A lot can happen by 2030."
The national apartment construction boom of the past few years was set to peak in 2017 before leveling off. But the lack of skilled workers and increased construction costs have pushed back the completion of many projects until 2018, according to Munger. That's the new time frame for apartment construction — not to end but to level off.
"We will see a dip down over the next couple of years in construction," Munger said. "The big word in the apartment market now is moderation. We had several years of double-digit growth in a lot of markets, but that is starting to come down."
But don't look for many affordable units in the new product being brought to market. It's almost exclusively luxury rentals being built, Munger said.
"Those definitely will be on the decrease going forward, especially in the coastal cities," she said.
That's not to say apartment construction won't continue. Demand is expected to be strong for more than a decade as mobile millennials — the largest sector of the population — put off home purchases, and as aging baby boomers — the second-largest age group — downsize to maintenance-free options.
Munger said there's a financial reason developers aren't investing in rentals aimed at the budget-minded.
"With what it costs to build a property, you can't make the math work," Munger said. "Construction materials and land costs are going up. It's almost impossible to build a 'B' or 'C' product."
That leaves older apartments ripe for upgrades.
"We have quite a bit of renovations going on as well," Munger said.
For instance, in the Charleston market the new owners of 33-year-old Plantation Flats in North Charleston announced in August they plan to spend $2 million to upgrade the 222-unit complex off Rivers Avenue.
Other older properties that changed hands recently also are undergoing makeovers, including the 198-unit Radius at West Ashley, with a $3 million overhaul. Part of it dates back to 1972 while some buildings were added in 2003, according to Charleston County property records.
Several factors go into the higher demand for apartments.
Experts said millennials don't want the hassle of being locked into a long-term mortgage, and they are putting off getting married and raising families. Immigrants tend to rent longer, and baby boomers are diving back into renting.
"The highest growth in renters is among baby boomers," Munger said. "They don't want to deal with maintenance. There's a sense of community they don't have with a single-family household. (Apartments) offer events and farmers markets and other amenities. ... Some apartment communities are even starting to hire event planners."
Finances are a big part of the reason to choose an apartment over a home as well.
"Baby boomers don't want to deal with homeownership, and younger people don't want to deal with a 30-year loan," Munger said.
For instance, Sarah and Evan Brown of Mount Pleasant are living in an apartment until they can afford to buy a home. Both chefs and originally from the Northeast, the early-30s couple moved around a good bit before coming to the Charleston region.
"If you don't know how long you are going to be somewhere, it makes sense to rent," Evan said.
Buying second-hand clothes and watching their spending, the couple hope to save enough for a down payment to buy a new home next year in the Lowcountry.
Also helping to drive the building boom in the Charleston region is a low barrier to apartment construction.
We Are Apartments ranks Charleston as "-3," meaning it is among the easiest metro areas in the nation to build multifamily units. By contrast, Honolulu ranks the most difficult at 19 on the index while New Orleans scores the lowest at -6, where it's easiest in the nation to build new apartments.
The national construction-barrier average index for all metro areas is 2.0. The index does not measure any other metro markets in South Carolina, including Columbia, Greenville or Myrtle Beach.
In the Charleston market, just over 1,600 units were added during the past six months while 1,725 were rented, according to Charlotte-based apartment information provider Real Data. But that demand is not expected to continue into next year.
Because of the number of new units being built across Charleston, "Demand will be unable to keep pace with the abundance of supply expected to come online over the next 12 months," according to Real Data.
"That will keep the vacancy rate in the 9 percent range for the coming year," according to Real Data. Charleston registered 8.9 percent apartment vacancy as of late September.
The current average rental rate for all size units in the Charleston market is $1,159, up 1.5 percent from September 2016, according to Real Data. The growth rate is expected to moderate next year.
Renters in Columbia fare much better. The average monthy rate in the capital city was $987 in May, the latest available figure from Real Data. That's an increase of 2.8 percent over the previous 12 months.
Apartment occupancy in the Columbia market is close to 92 percent, just 3 percentage points shy of what's considered a full market.
The number of new apartments in the Midlands is projected to fall below demand over the next 12 months, and rental rates could jump 3 percent to 3.5 percent this year and next year, according to Real Data.
"The Columbia market is growing but not nearly at the pace of Charleston," Dukes, of RentPath, said. "The market is very healthy in Charleston. It looks like a lot of things are going to build toward the Summerville area and Volvo," which is building an automobile assembly plant near Ridgeville.
Lisa Pelloni, president of the Charleston Apartment Association, said, “Charleston's apartment supply is expanding while rent demand is strong."
Officials with the Columbia and Myrtle Beach apartment associations did not respond to requests for comment.