Island Hopping: James Island's closeness to downtown, beach draws residents to its value priced homes and high-end rentals

A lone heron stands in marsh within the Riverland Terrace neighborhood on James Island. The sprawling town south of Charleston showcases wetlands, creeks and harborside properties (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).

Known as a bedroom community, James Island encompasses rural spaces, too, hidden away from motorists on main drags. Just ask Eric Draper.

"Drive down a dirt road, and you'll see cows, goats and sheep," says Draper, principal and broker-in-charge at Charleston Real Estate Group.

There's cultural outcroppings, such as battlegrounds from the Civil and Revolutionary wars, set within out-of-the way neighborhoods or on secluded roadways with not much more than historic signs to mark them.

Yet the island's hardly an amorphous cluster of subdivisions with no vision. After all, what other place tried multiple times without success to incorporate before finally pulling it off.

"James Island is a very driven, passionate community," he says.

The sprawling mass of land, creeks and sounds situated south of West Ashley and north of Folly Beach attracts families, retirees and downsizers who enjoy living near historic Charleston one way and the ocean the other. Reasonable home prices in many cases in the $300,000s or so are also drawing in purchasers.

"If you think about James Island in general, it's less expensive than Mount Pleasant," Draper says.

Regional figures back up the claim. According to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors' market report last year, the median price on James Island rose 10.9 percent from $207,000 in 2009 to $229,500 last year. Mount Pleasant's midpoint prices in 2013, by comparison, finished between $335,000 and $345,000.

In addition, James Island ranked second last year in the increase in new listings, up 29.5 percent from 2012. The community placed third in pending sales, rising 34.2 percent; and fourth in closed sales, with a 30.2 percent jump.

Today the village seeks to recruit trendy eateries, new shopping plazas and upscale apartment complexes without scaring away the residents who moved there to escape from fast-paced growth elsewhere.

"I think it's a good market, with affordable price points," says Stephanie Wilson-Hartzog, agent with Carolina One Real Estate.

She says younger homeowners are moving in, excited about the island's next-door-neighbor status to Folly Beach. By the same token, "you see a lot of MUSC students" who can save money residing on James Island yet are minutes away from the medical university. "Anything under $300,000 is going really well," she says.

Bryan Thompson, a self-styled "James Island boy" and Realtor with AgentOwned Realty, cites another healthy aspect of the island's real estate market - homes that rent at appealing rates for owners who can bring in extra income.

He owns a house on Ellison Run in Seaside Plantation that's valued at around $300,000 yet is fetching $2,000 a month. Another owner's home in Clark's Point, meanwhile, is bringing in $3,800 a month.

"I think a lot of people are transitioning in Charleston; they don't know where they want to be," he says. Homeowners who faced credit troubles during the national recession may not yet be able to buy due to regulations preventing delinquent borrowers from purchasing homes for a set time frame, Thompson says.

The (rental) real estate market is really on fire now," he says. "We've got 38 (leasable homes) on the entire island."

Moving forward, buyers should start returning to the James Island market in a big way, Thompson says. "People are trying to buy: Sellers are overthinking the price value."

He notes, "There's not a lot of land left. I think James Island will see a lot of land value in the next five to 10 years."

To get to James Island from downtown Charleston, cross the James Island Connector and turn off the exit at Harbor View or Folly roads heading either north or south. An alternate route would be to take Folly from the Ashley River Bridge and cross the Wappoo Bridge. Heading straight leads to the connector-Folly Road intersection, turning right goes to Maybank Highway and making a left ends up at Country Club of Charleston.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or

Location: Charleston County

Number of homes: 7,500 plus

Square footage: 680-5,417

Look & feel: Much of James Island is on, near or in viewing distance of water. Yet the community's look is varied, from commercial sectors on Folly Road to live oak avenues along Fort Johnson Road and in Riverland Terrace. Many island neighborhoods are established: families congregate in their yards and empty nesters walk their pets. A few new-home communities are being built, from Woodland Shores Road to Seaside Plantation. Condos and townhomes dot the island. Some houses toward Folly Beach take on cottage styles. Areas bordering Charleston Harbor and the Folly River sport $1 million plus residences, while Harbor View Road provides dramatic views across marsh to downtown Charleston. Island attractions include Charleston Municipal Golf Course on Maybank Highway and James Island County Park off Riverland Drive.

Homes on market: 304

List prices: $59,900-$2,950,000

Schools: Harbor View, James Island, Murray-LaSaine, Stiles Point elementary and Apple Charter elementary; Ft. Johnson and James Island middle; James Island Charter and Clark Academy high; O'Quinn School (private).

Fun facts: The island gets its name from a 17th century Carolina governor who sought to establish "James Towne" on a nearby creek; in terms of government, James Island is split three ways with 11,500 people in the town, 6,000 residents in unincorporated Charleston county, and 20,000 people in the city of Charleston.