The Lowcountry is rich with culture.

That culture is reflected by its people, the history, its natural beauty and the way in which homes are constructed to be an integral part of the overall landscape that says: This is the Lowcountry – welcome.

Some of our neighborhoods are small and intimate. Others are large and sprawling, with amenities galore.

Then, there are the custom homes.

I talked to a few industry experts about what defines a “custom builder,” what population that part of the industry serves and what to look for when choosing one.

Will Jenkinson, Broker in Charge of Carolina One New Homes, Custom Homes Group (CHG) has spent decades working with some of the area’s most reputable builders. The CHG has a “one stop shop” approach—offering a hugely diverse range of services to clients, and collectively bringing together every player involved – homebuyers, real estate agents and brokers, and developers and builders. The result is a seamless, integrated system that incorporates the often arduous tasks of land acquisition, design, marketing and market research into a cohesive whole.

“We’re celebrating 25 years with our New Homes Group,” Jenkinson said. “We established the CHG and defined it, putting the right people in place because there was a need in the marketplace for helping that part of the industry. We facilitate the process, whatever the needs are. We have an incredibly diverse mix of highly reputable and quality builders – for people who already have lots or for those who want to live in ‘custom’ communities, from Awendaw to Riverside, down to Hibben over to Edwards Place and Shell Landing. We help the customer, the builder community, the local development community and the real estate community.”

Excelling in the speculative custom home and custom home sales market over the past five years, Carolina One’s CHG has a large and impressive portfolio of area builders. Custom homes are typically associated with a price point, which normally begins at about $650,000, Jenkinson said.

“Custom building has evolved,” said Jenkinson. “Our process grew because of that evolution and we work with builders who have custom speculative homes, builders within large communities and with that definitive custom builder – from the client who sits down with an architect and paper to developer to building and final construction.”

Jenkinson revealed that the trend has been with infill development (developing vacant or under-used parcels within specific areas that are already largely developed), such as Mount Pleasant. Custom builders work within these developments, usually bringing plans in hand to clients after working with an architect. The homebuyer can then tweak plans to their specifications.

“In the realm of custom home building there are different spectrums,” Jenkinson explained. “From the customer standpoint, it (custom building) covers a large swath of that segment.”

I reached out to three of the CHG builders, representative of that segment.

The Builders

Cline Homes was established in 2005 and is run by two brothers, Jeffrey and Scott Cline. One of their most recognizable neighborhoods in Charleston County is within Carolina Park in Mount Pleasant, a large master-planned community. They were the first builders in Riverside and have the largest presence in it. Homebuyers can choose from a range of designs and make changes to them to accommodate their needs. Prices begin at $750,000. The private, large-lot homes fronting Bolden Lake in Riverside can go to $1 million plus.

Their most recent community, Awendaw Village, is in the final development stage. These homes have a range of defined plans, as in Riverside. The 41 homes, ranging in size from 2,500 to over 4,000 square feet, will be classic Charleston-style, and prices will be from the mid $600,000 to $1.2 million. Construction is slated for completion in early 2019.

“We have dedicated our focus on what we see to be a particular niche in the market,” Jeff Cline said. “Our goal is to bring a custom home buying experience to our clients at a value price. With the help of our project managers and design coordinators, we can balance the customization and personalization buyers seek, with processes and scheduling efficiencies required to deliver a high quality, custom home in a timely manner.”

Cline stated he’s seeing a trend in new and distinctive cabinet colors, geometric tiles with colored grout and over-scaled lighting fixtures in primary living areas such as kitchen islands.

“Buyers continue to seek designs that bring in natural light into their living spaces and compliment these areas with clean, linear trim details,” he said. “Large outdoor living spaces and ‘drop zones’ are a major priority and specialty finishes and products in the kitchen and master bath are where customers spend extra money.”

Cline's homes are 90 percent of that upper speculative custom-type build, Jenkinson said.

“Cline Homes has been hugely successful in catering to that buyer who wants a more custom type home,” Jenkinson said. “They’re more set up having a defined set of plans – and making changes to those plans if needed. In doing so, they can stay within the range of that $650,000 to low million dollar build.”

Structures Building Company has a large staff and office on Daniel Island. Since its inception over 20 years ago, owner Steve Kendrick has employed the help of other industry experts for his staff – designers, coordinators, office administrators, and project and site managers – to deliver a strong team-centric approach to every build. Twice named the GuildQuality’s Builder of the Year and the Prism Award for customer service multiple times, the organization has a strong network of referrals, contractors and architects.

“We coordinate the design for our clients with local architects and designers, develop the budget and specifications and value-engineers when required,” said Steve Kendrick. “Building a custom home involves hundreds and hundreds of details and it takes a builder with systems and people to manage them, involving the client when needed, but otherwise taking the burden off them. Building a custom home should be fun, and we work hard behind the scenes to make that happen.”

Kendrick and his team are currently working with three clients to design and build their second home with Structures – a testament to their long-standing and impeccable reputation as a full-service custom home builder.

The trend for 2019?

“Many clients are ‘right-sizing’ their homes and are focused more on quality over quantity and performance over size,” Kendrick said. “Open floor plans are still popular, but we are hearing a buzz in the architect community that separation of some living spaces is starting to make a comeback – I’m going to have to see that to believe it.”

Empty nester clients want master bedrooms and guest/flex rooms down and outdoor living spaces are important, Kendrick said.

“They are one of the most seasoned, and well-staffed, ‘structured’ builders in the area,” Jenkinson said. “They have been building for 20 years and that says something about surviving the ups and downs. They’ve built in Kiawah River Estates, Daniel Island, Riverside, Edwards Place, on James Island, Isle of Palms, Daniel Island and Mount Pleasant. Their focus is more on working with architects and customers from the beginning – that’s where their strength lies — in their team centric approach. Structures is in the niche of building about 90 percent custom homes and approximately 10 percent upper speculative custom builds.”

One of their most recent developments, Edwards Place in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant, is a small community comprising ten homes. It’s at the corner of McCants Drive and Jackson Street and the master plan includes “The Preserve,” which will contain “elegant green spaces and winding walking paths.” Lot prices begin at $637,400.

Coleman Builders, LLC is a small-staffed, yet big on quality and reputation custom builder that was established in 2002. Owner Allen Coleman, his wife, April and their project manager Chris Shimakonis work with individual clients to bring their vision from paper to completion. The team has built over 65 custom homes in Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms and Daniel Island.

“Being a small business, we really just take a hands-on approach to building a house,” April Coleman said. “Many of our clients are repeat customers and we all end up being good friends.”

Husband Allen agreed. “We ultimately want people to love their new home and the building process.”

According to the Colemans, the trends they’re seeing for 2019 are large outdoor living spaces with built-in fireplaces; back kitchen scullery; custom pools; quartz countertops with extra-thick mitered slabs on kitchen islands; wide plank and fumed (European look) hardwoods throughout the home; white exterior paint; spray foam insulation and large mudrooms.

“Design trends are wallpaper, floating shelves in the kitchen vs upper cabinets, brass fixtures and shiplap trim,” April Coleman said.

Jenkinson said a custom home “from scratch” can take up to two years to build and added that Coleman Builders is in the range of building approximately four to eight custom homes a year.

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“Coleman’s builds are going into the last phase of the Hibben community,” Jenkinson said. “They live in the neighborhood and that says something about a builder. He is invested in his community. He’s built the home right next to him, across the street from him and he is surrounded by neighbors whose homes he’s built.”

The take-away

There are numerous choices when it comes to building a dream custom home or redefining a custom speculative one. The most crucial part of that decision is choosing who to have on your team when deciding to do so.

“There are certain characteristics a great builder has to have – honesty, integrity, patience and the ability to adapt,” Jenkinson said. “We’ve all see the changes in construction over the years, but when you find a builder, that’s been doing the same thing, in the same location, for a number of years, it means that they’ve navigated well. Meeting budgets and timelines are important, and how to handle the bumps that come up. Our builders cover the spectrum and are equally successful, but they all share many of the same characteristics that homebuyers want – you’re not just buying a product and walking away in 30 days. You’re working with someone for an extended period of time and it’s important to choose the right builder for your circumstances.”

***

Carolina One CHG Builders

• Axon Homes, 1964 Riviera Drive, Suite J, Mt Pleasant; Peter Oakes, Founder & President

• Burton Company Inc., 222 West Coleman Blvd., Mt Pleasant; Jack Burton, Founder & Owner

• Cline Homes, 474 Wando Park Blvd., Mt Pleasant; Jeffrey & Scott Cline, Owners & VPs

• Coleman Builders, Mt. Pleasant; Allen and April Colman, Founders & Owners

• JacksonBuilt Custom Homes, 901 Island Park Drive, Daniel Island; Richard Jackson, Owner & President

• Oak Marsh Homes, 497 Bramson Court, Mt Pleasant; Paul Lawler & Daniel Dukes, Partners

• Saussy Burbank, 730 Coleman Blvd., Mt Pleasant

• Southern Legacy Builders, Isle of Palms, Jeff Woodman, Owner

• Structures Building Company, 899 Island Park Drive, Daniel Island; Steve Kendrick, Owner

• Trellis Residential, Mt Pleasant; Jeff Pritchard, Founder

Reach Brigitte Surette at bsurette@postandcourier.com.