Gone Country: Home shoppers tap metro Charleston fringes and beyond to find acreage, dwellings miles from cities and suburbs

Charleston's accessibility boosts property values for houses in the country, such as this sprawling home on six acres in Huger priced at $750,000 (Provided).

Terry Hamlin still remembers the date: July 5, 1994.

He and his soon-to-be second wife Dolly Hamlin were studying homes to buy after agreeing they didn't like either of theirs.

The couple came upon a house in the Francis Marion Forest that intrigued them. The two-story residence offered historic architectural features - including wall materials from an outhouse built in 1801 in Seneca - at an affordable price. He had literally picked the property at random from one of the gigantic real estate guides toted around in the days before the Multiple Listing Service became all-encompassing and online.

Yet Hamlin still wasn't convinced the house was "meant to be" until he noticed bricks with special marks that slaves - who weren't allowed to learn to read and write - employed as signatures.

Not just bricks from anywhere, either, but ones forged at Hamlin Plantation - the very same Mount Pleasant property that belonged to Terry Hamlin's ancestors.

The pair signed a contract that day and have lived in the Berkeley County house not far from S.C. Highway 41 ever since, just more than 20 years.

Hamlin wasn't a real estate agent at the time but he's gone on to specialize in country houses. The Realtor with Carolina One Real Estate now lists a wood-frame house on six acres in the tiny Wisboo Hall neighborhood in Huger, priced at $750,000.

"This is one of the reasons people call me," he says. "I'm used to dealing with wells and septic tanks, horses, the amount of land (required) around livestock."

Not all prospective country home buyers are alike, Hamlin says. Older couples, for instance, are more apt to ask about proximity to hospitals and doctors as well as places to shop, since they may only travel to the store a couple of times a week. Families, in turn, are more likely to ask about schools.

Still, he sees one familiar trait among all rural house hunters. Shoppers share a vision. If the house meets what they're looking for, they're ready to make a purchase as long as the price isn't too high.

In the Lowcountry, buyers can get away from it all, yet live just 30 minutes from shopping centers, visitor attractions and cultural amenities.

As a result, properties tend to be in demand. Lately, "You are finding a lot of interest" in country living, he says. "But there's a little bit of sticker shock."

Nicole Madey of Coldwell Banker United, Realtors lists a four-bedroom house on half-an-acre in Summerton in Clarendon County for $279,000.

"Being near Charleston is very desirable to a lot of people," she says. "You are close to (Interstate) 95, close to I-26," she says. "They don't mind a 45 minute to hour drive from work," Madey says, as long as they arrive at a house they really like.

She supplied recent MLS figures that seem to back up the contention that country properties are more desired today than a couple of years ago.

Madey says the average sale prices in the Lake Marion area of rural Clarendon County jumped 22.8 percent in August 2012 to July 2013 from the same period a year ago, to $219,250 from $178,500. The total surged another 30 percent, to $285,000 from $219,500, in August 2013-July 2014 compared with a year before.

Prices of country homes are "rising slowly, a 4 percent increase per year," Madey says. The average number of days that rural houses are on the market, while higher than the Charleston area as a whole, are dropping by 30 percent year over year.

"I definitely see the country market coming back overall," says Duncan Newkirk Jr., broker-in-charge of DCN Properties. He's showing a 245-acre tract in Barnwell County priced at close to $600,000. When the company bought the property a few years back, the market had nosedived. "The last six months, we have seen a pickup."

The land, he says, is "ideally for a group of people who want to buy something to hunt and fish on, a second home," Newkirk says.

In any case, rural farm and home shoppers scout out houses and sites knowing pretty much precisely what they want.

'There's something they are looking for, (they've been) dreaming about for a long time," Hamlin says. "That feeling like you're in the country, like Gone with the Wind."

To locate country properties from downtown Charleston, travel most any direction - except to the ocean - for 20-40 miles or more. Farmland and forests mark the west and southwest, woodlands and swamps are to the north and the Francis Marion Forest buffers the northeast.

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