Special to the Post and Courier
Summer temperatures are not the only things rising these days. So are Berkeley County’s ratings on the scale of popularity. Just how popular is this neck of the woods becoming? Carolina One recently named the county’s City of Goose Creek as one of the top selling areas of the Lowcountry.
What is driving the current spike in interest here, and what is behind the growth spurt that Berkeley County is experiencing? For starters, a demand for housing that rose during the pandemic, and continues to rise as the world emerges from it. Recent data is revealing how the shift to a remote workforce as a direct response to COVID-19 altered the country’s geographic demographics, moving populations away from urban centers and toward places like Berkeley County.
A Charlotte-based news station WSOC reported in June that South Carolina was the top inbound destination for pandemic movers as recorded by the moving company, United Van Lines, second only to the state of Idaho.
In addition to that news report, a study conducted by U.S. News & World Report found that “Delaware, Florida and South Carolina were the states that saw the most inbound moves for retirement reasons. Two of those three—Florida and South Carolina—also appeared in the top 10 overall.”
Statista, a company specializing in IT solutions for employers had this to say about the nature of working remotely and how last year impacted it: “Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 17 percent of U.S. employees worked from home five days or more per week, a share that increased to 44 percent during the pandemic.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the remote working trend, as quarantines and lockdowns made commuting and working in an office close to impossible for millions around the world. Remote work, also called telework or working from home (WFH), provided a solution, with employees performing their roles away from the office supported by specialized technology, eliminating the commute to an office to remain connected with colleagues and clients.” It goes on to predict that our post-pandemic world will continue to reflect a reality where working remotely exists as the norm.
Bridget Dickey of Elaine Brabham & Associates, weighed in on what is happening in Berkeley County from her perspective as a real estate professional working in the area. In terms of the trend she is seeing, she acknowledges the growth that the Berkeley County is experiencing, and how it has sped up in the past several years. She also assigns credit for the more recent population number surges to the phenomenon she likes to refer to as the “post-pandemic migration South.” She is correct in her estimation that this is something affecting not just Berkeley County but the entire state and region as a whole.
For those who are not part of any pandemic-related migration trend that Dickey has observed, but rather, are employed within the framework of a traditional onsite work setting, Roni Haskell, a realtor with Keller Williams, credits the county with doing the work to attract businesses.
“Berkeley County has done a great job of bringing large employers to the Lowcountry and living in close proximity to work provides a great quality of life for many families,” Haskell said.
With so many settling here — some by choice as the result of a flexible remote job arrangement brought on by a COVID-19 world; some because their job may require them to live here and commute to a physical location; others who may be entering the next phase of life and retiring in a warm and coastal climate; and others, still, who are here and continue to come here for a myriad of reasons.
Let’s take a look at what Berkeley County offers newcomers, locals and long-term residents alike.
Made up of eight municipalities and joining the previously mentioned City of Goose Creek are the City of Hanahan, parts of Daniel Island, and the Towns of Bonneau, Jamestown, St. Stephen, Summerville and Moncks Corner, the Berkeley County seat of government. Within those various municipalities exists every type of residential setting imaginable, from a small-town vibe to a rural countryside, to a coastal resort-style oasis, to a bustling hub of commerce and activity. You name it, and there is a place within Berkeley County where you can find it.
Digging deeper, Haskell notes that three of the factors she believes that make Berkeley County such a desirable place to live, work, play and retire include convenience, taxes and the variety of housing options that are available. In addition to local government luring businesses and employers and boosting the local economy, she credits the county’s access “to shopping, dining, and medical facilities,” along with its fiscal opportunities as contributing to its widespread appeal.
She adds, “the property taxes are the lowest in the tri-county area making it even more attractive.” As for the impact on schools that naturally accompany any high-growth area, she knows it exists and said, “The Berkeley County School District is working through this challenge.”
Haskell commented on the variety of housing types. “My real estate team works with a lot of buyers that are purchasing in 55+ active adult communities,” she explained. “Berkeley County has more of these active adult lifestyle communities than the other parts of town. Over 100 homes have sold year-to-date in 2021 in the three 55+ communities of Del Webb in Cane Bay, Del Webb in Nexton, and Four Seasons in Cane Bay. That is a huge draw for both locals who are looking for a change of lifestyle, as well as newcomers to our area.”
Dickey references Berkeley County’s housing costs and leadership as playing key roles in addition to its lower taxes. “The price point, I believe, has a lot to do with it,” she said. “In Berkeley County, for example, a buyer could find what they are looking for in a home, townhome or etcetera for possibly thousands of dollars less than say Mount Pleasant or Downtown Charleston. And let us not forget that the overall taxes could be less as well.”
As for the leadership aspect, Dickey praises the local government. “I have been a resident of Berkeley County for over 13 years now. I have seen my county grow and expand for the better. I recently told my husband that I love where I live and would not want to live anywhere else at this time in our lives. Berkeley County has a lot to offer with the leadership currently in place primed to lead this county forward. I am sure there are great things on the horizon. For those who move here, and for those who have already made this county home.”
Supply and demand
Dickey acknowledges the obvious growth the county is experiencing and how it “has accelerated in the past several years.” She also understands that, regardless of the reason, or reasons, behind it, demand right now outweighs supply.
It is that reduction in supply, according to Jana Bantz of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Southern Coast Realty, serving as the catalyst for granting existing home sellers in the Berkeley County market an additional leverage when going up against new construction.
“As long as a resale home is in good condition and nicely updated, they can compete side-by-side with new homes in this fast-paced market,” said Bantz.
Noting low builder inventory despite the increase in demand for housing, she explained it this way: “The high volume of new construction in Berkeley County has made it very attractive to buyers this year with Cane Bay and Nexton seeing large increases in sales activity. These well-designed communities provide a great lifestyle for all stages of life, including active adults, which has been a popular feature among many of our incoming buyers. The addition of more retail businesses has contributed to locations like Cane Bay being convenient and affordable. By that same token, builders’ inventory has been low so that it gives an extra boost to existing home sellers that can offer buyers an option to take possession of a home in 30 days versus a build time of several months.”
In its May 2021 report, The Charleston Trident Association of Realtors (CTAR) confirms the existence of a seller’s market as described by both Dickey and Bantz. A snapshot for the month of May, for example, from 2020 to 2021, shows that the “Inventory of Homes for Sale” for single-family homes is down a whopping 70 percent. The “Days on Market Until Sale” number, meanwhile, shifted from 43 to 18, a downward trend of nearly 60 percent. Conversely, approaching that same percentage as an increase versus a decrease is the “Closed Sales” number, which is up from 354 to 557, or close to 60 percent.
The CTAR “Housing Supply Overview” report, while not specific to just Berkeley County but instead for the entire tri-county region including Charleston and Dorchester Counties, also supports this. The latest report is quoted as stating that “robust buyer demand, fueled by low mortgage rates, continues to outpace supply, which remains near historic lows. Nationwide, inventory remains much lower than it was at the same time last year, and sales prices are surging as a result. While the warmer temperatures, rising sales prices, and the reopening of the economy may draw more sellers to the market, historically low levels of homes for sale are likely to continue for some time in most market segments.”
Over on Daniel Island where Bantz has been spending a good deal of time working and negotiating deals so far this Spring, she notes how “those properties are flying off the market. We were in a multiple offer situation with every home our buyer clients considered.”
Dickey added, “From the seller’s perspective, it is paradise. Plain and simple.”
Attractions and activities
Housing statistics and numbers aside, what is it that makes this corner of the Lowcountry special? Paddling for one.
Post & Courier’s staff writer Andrew Miller recently captured Berkeley County’s appeal to outdoor and water enthusiasts by highlighting the sheer number of paddling opportunities alone that exist within its borders. His May 2021 article, “A vast haven for paddlers,” describes the scenery and trails that make up the Berkeley County Blueways, a system boasting the largest series of kayaking and paddling waterways in the state of South Carolina.
Is water not your thing but maybe tennis is? You are in luck. Berkeley County is also home to the popular annual women’s tennis tournament, the Volvo Car Open on Daniel Island. Interested in history and nature and not sports? Mepkin Abbey and Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner have you covered. Mepkin Abbey is the beautiful home to the local Trappist monk’s community while Cypress Gardens houses lush gardens and coastal wildlife in a mysterious, black water swamp setting. Movie buffs will recognize Cypress Gardens as the setting for the canoe scene between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in “The Notebook.”
Haskell pays homage to the area’s seemingly boundless outdoor amenities by noting the numerous “lakes and waterways, parks and recreation facilities” that exist and contribute to its attractive lifestyle. Boating is another local pastime, as is visiting area beaches, given the proximity to several including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Kiawah Island and Seabrook. Downtown Charleston is also easily accessible for Berkeley County residents.
What to expect
Berkeley County can expect more of the same on the horizon for the rest of 2021. A tightening of inventory is likely to keep the seller’s market sizzling hot, perhaps hotter than it already is. Newcomers will continue to discover the appeal with many of them choosing to make Berkeley County their home.