Battery power Centuries-old homes in city’s venerable peninsula entice cosmopolitan shoppers

The 6,992-square-foot home at 18 Church St., profiling five bedrooms and six baths, lists for $4,450,000.

Jet-setters buying into downtown Charleston’s array of imposing mansions, spacious single-homes and snug carriage houses is a trend that dates back decades. But claiming historic Charleston as “home” may be an emerging movement.

Carolina One Real Estate associate Theresa Evans has a client who frequents apartments in New York and Paris. Yet the homeowner’s “main base is here,” says Evans, who works from the agency’s downtown office.

Easy, inexpensive trips to and from Charleston are one reason the historic district lures wealthy globetrotters as permanent residents. “You can get on a plane in New York (and fly to Charleston and back) on Jet Blue, $120 round trip,” Evans says.

Evans’ listings include 135 Broad St., a stylish house separated into two wings with dual kitchens and laundry rooms, enough off-street parking for a half dozen cars and well-placed side porches that are prime spots for watching the Charleston Christmas parade. The home lists for $1,775,000.

“We’ve had several people who looked at it and want it, from New York,” she says.

The Realtor says she’s seen an upward bump in historic house hunters originating from even further away than the typical hotbeds in the Northeast, including “California buyers who are priced out of San Francisco,” as well as purchasers from Seattle.

International travelers are another burgeoning group of prospects. Evans has studied markets in Berlin and Italy and attended the 2015 International Symposium hosted by Leading Real Estate Companies of the World and Luxury Portfolio International in December in Germany.

“For middle- to high-end Charleston properties, the international buyer is out there, and is aware of the appeal of Charleston,” Evans said while discussing the symposium.

Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, originated in the late 1970s, “brought a lot of people from Italy,” Evans says. In Europe, “people want to be in markets that are not necessarily cosmopolitan.”

The downtown Charleston market looks “extremely active right now. We’re excited about the buyers we are seeing all over the world,” Evans says.

She acknowledges, however, there’s an inventory shortage. The highest-priced properties, $1.5 million and up, are drawing interest. But the market below $1.5 million is “incredibly tight” and anything under $1 million sells right away as buyers fear they’ll lose out. Evans expects more properties to be for sale as the weather warms up in the spring.

Want evidence? Just check local real estate statistics.

Charleston Trident Association of Realtors home sales and price figures confirm that the peninsula market is relatively healthy despite ups and downs in the past few years.

The median price in downtown Charleston — which spans roughly from the Crosstown south to the Battery — declined slightly in 2015 to $590,000 from $592,000 a year before. But the median price rose 35.8 percent from $434,500 in 2011. The price gain ranked eighth highest out of 23 Lowcountry geographic sectors, as defined by Charleston Multiple Listing Service. In 2015, 382 homes sold downtown — according to MLS numbers — off 5 percent from the year before. Still, the houses yielded a strong 93 percent of the original list prices, CTAR notes.

Charles Sullivan, Realtor with Carriage Properties in Charleston, agrees February may be a little early for the market to have built up steam.

Yet Sullivan contends that 2016 already has brought more activity downtown than previous winters in part due to an even worse climate elsewhere. “There’s been a lot of colder weather in the Northeast,” he says.

Historic Charleston continues to face struggles in lining up enough properties for buyers. “You sell two, one comes out to replace them, but the demand has not varied,” says Sullivan, who lists historic homes at 26 and 18 Church streets for $1,995,000 and $4,450,000 respectively. “I haven’t seen any change in pricing.”

If the volume of properties for sale remains tight, he says, then agents might encourage owners to put properties on the market for a higher price. The reasoning, he says, is the market won’t loosen up until there are more owners encouraged to sell based on the expectations of posting solid returns.

Sullivan notes that the downtown Charleston market has almost stretched into a year-round season, as the fall and winter are both seeing more action. That’s fine, he says, as long as there’s sufficient inventory for buyers.

Presently, the interest in properties “is still Northeast driven,” Sullivan says. “But once you get to March and April, the buyers come from everywhere.”

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