Lap Of Luxury: Charleston area commands resurgent market of historic haunts, sprawling spectacles

The historic 17th century Pink House at 17 Chalmers St. boasts a terracotta roof. The luxury home is for sale for $999,500 (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).


The Post and Courier

A $2.5 million sale of a Legare Street house here, an East Battery closing in “the $4 million range” there pleases Debbie Fisher.

Those deals this year indicate the luxury homes field is ripening, like the tangy fruit on downtown fig trees.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the market is all the way ripe. Fisher, broker-in-charge of Handsome Properties in Charleston, is aware the four-year national housing downturn yielded a sustained hibernation in high-end sales. With a few exceptions, potential buyers sit on the fence, not ready to commit.

“But everything is showing like crazy, which really means they are just about (ready to move),” Fisher says. “People are reading about Charleston, with Spoleto, all the events. Instead of going down to Miami,” jet setters are stopping in the Lowcountry. “I think there’s a confidence,” she says.

Fisher is among dozens of Realtors in metro Charleston who either specialize in luxury home sales or at least count on a few such listings from time to time.

While luxury homes account for higher totals dollar-wise, sales of residences at $750,000 or higher made up 5 percent, or 1 in 20, of all deals in greater Charleston in the first three months of 2013, according to Charleston Trident Multiple Listing Service figures.

“We are definitely seeing more people looking,” says Alex Tumbleston, agent with Wilkinson & Associates Real Estate ERA Powered in West Ashley. “Banks are lending money again; that’s helping a lot,” she says.

Tumbleston is listing what she describes as four “lovely and secluded” estate lots on private Flounder Lake on Yonges Island in the town of Meggett. The 4.25-7.32 acre parcels sell from $330,000 to $400,000. Or, someone could purchase the entire 22.28 acre tract for $1,465,000.

“A birder’s, fisherman’s, or hunter’s paradise, with its own ‘Avenue of Oaks,’” she says in her listing.

Tumbleston says the luxury market started turning upward in fall 2012. “Every month it gets better,” she says.

The Yonges Island property would be an ideal choice for buyers who want to keep horses, or establish organic gardening plots, for instance, she says.

Many luxury home shoppers are looking to places such as Meggett, which while rural is just five miles from U.S. Highway 17 South. “I think they are looking to get away from the high density,” Tumbleston says.

According to Peggy Reese, the luxury home market is “doing a lot better.” She is listing a brick house on Shellfish Court, backing up to a lagoon and on a cul de sac in Hamlin Plantation in Mount Pleasant, that’s priced at $745,000.

“Hamlin is a nice neighborhood. It’s got beautiful walking paths, trees, a sense of privacy,” says Reese, a Realtor with AgentOwned Realty.

Reese says she’s seen signs that out-of-town buyers are moving to the Lowcountry.

She talked this week to the owner of a moving van rental company, who says so many customers are hauling their belongings from places in the Northeast to the Charleston area that the company had to send its employees out to recover the vans to have supply.

An advantage for the Charleston area is that homeowners in the Northeast, even as far south as Washington, D.C., can buy more house here. Large houses are available here for below $1 million. At the same time, interest “rates are low,” she says. Out-of-state shoppers are calling her, asking things such as, “I want something between Savannah and Wilmington for $750,000.”

Also helpful is home sales in harder hit parts of the country are showing “a bit of an uptick.” Reese says. That had been “a little holdup,” when people couldn’t sell their homes elsewhere to move to the Charleston area.

While agents are happy about the boost in luxury home sales, they’re aware that too much growth can be a bad thing — even in the rarefied luxury market.

Reese cites a trip she took this spring with her husband to the Big Apple. When New Yorkers learned they were from Charleston, “they’d want to come here, (but adding) close the gate behind me,” she says. “They don’t want to bring everybody else.”

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