Proximity to ocean and downtown gives James Island a value-friendly real estate market

The Terrabrook community is a less than decade-old subdivision near James Island County Park. Moderately priced homes in newer neighborhoods are sought after on the island stretching from Charleston’s peninsula to Folly Beach.

The expression hasn’t found its way to bumper stickers or T-shirts yet, but Sam Broadway believes it succinctly sums up James Island’s real estate appeal.

“It’s between culture and beach,” the ReMax Main Street agent says.

The culture would be the city’s historic district, reachable from the James Island Connector. And the beach? Folly Beach, just a river south of the island. “You’ve got ‘The Edge of America’ right there,” Broadway says.

James Island effectively links downtown with the Atlantic Ocean. With portions in the city of Charleston, town of James Island and unincorporated areas, the island grew in the past few decades from scattered neighborhoods along Harbor View, Fort Johnson and Folly roads into a thriving bedroom community with more than 30,000 people.

The island has been overlooked at times, even as the connector eased traffic problems. But in the past few years, James Island’s stock has risen as young parents look for less costly alternatives to raise families and retirees seek places that offer wide-open spaces yet are convenient to city perks.

“We researched places to live and loved James Island,” says Erika Connors, a neonatal nurse who moved to the Lowcountry a few years ago with her husband Mark Connors, assistant principal at Harbor View Elementary School.

She is from Pittsburgh; he’s a Detroit native.

In their house hunt, they eyed various Charleston area communities. “Mount Pleasant was beautiful, too,” she says. But James Island’s lower residential costs and the prime spot they found in Ocean Neighbors near Folly Beach two years ago was more than enough fodder to buy south of the Ashley and east of the Stono rivers. The couple have a 7-month-old boy, and there’s a park just down the road.

“I’ve heard a lot of James Island neighborhoods have oyster roasts in the fall (or otherwise host events) so families can get together,” she says.

Pam Bass, a Realtor with Century 21 Properties Plus, is listing the highest-priced home now on the market on James Island, according to Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. The $3,995,000 estate overlooks Charleston Harbor at 607 N. Shore Drive.

She says sales on higher priced homes are a little slower to move now, but, “I’ve noticed the houses priced under $400,000, things are definitely active.”

Home prices are edging up on the island, Bass says, noting that a neighbor who sold her house on Lighthouse Point on Clark Sound cleared at least $20,000 three years after buying the property.

The one drawback, she says, is there aren’t many homes available for first-time homeonwers. “You used to get homes under $250,000. The prices have gone up.”

Whatever the case, James Island has been discovered.

“I don’t think people had thought of James Island before; they wanted to go to Mount Pleasant,” she says.

“It’s heading up, like the rest of the market,” Broadway says. But “very low inventory, below three months (for a typical home to sell)” has acted as a drag. James Island doesn’t possess large tracts of developable land, thereby slowing down new-homes growth. “There’s not a lot of building going to James Island,” the agent says. The island’s natural waterfronts on the Ashley River, Clark Sound, Wappoo Creek and Folly River include many acres of wetlands, which are scenic but limit land for new homes.

Developers such as D.R. Horton partner Emerald Homes are building smaller subdivisions. The relative residential scarcity “obviously puts upward pressure on prices, but it’s within reason,” Broadway believes. He’s sold two houses in Terrabrook, a decade-old village off Riverland Drive near James Island County Park, and appraisals came in around the sale prices, “which is a good sign,” he says.

Signals of James Island’s bursting real estate market appeared at least as early as 2014, according to findings in the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors’ Residential Real Estate Market Update.

For starters, the association counted 867 home sales on James Island last year, up 17.2 percent from 2013 and close to double the Charleston area average.

At the same time, the median price of a James Island home reached $258,500, higher than the Edisto area and Wando-Cainhoy. Prices jumped 12.6 percent from the year before, a more sizable one-year gain than any Charleston area community except downtown Charleston, upper Charleston peninsula, Folly Beach and Wando-Cainhoy.

James Island places in the top five areas locally for change in median sales price from 2013; and percentage gains in new listings, pending sales and closed sales, according to the Realtors association report.

Broadway doesn’t expect the James Island sales surge to slow down any time soon.

“There’s a lot of new people (working at) Boeing, MUSC. People are a little better about the economy; they are willing to invest,” he says. “The confidence is there (on James Island), and timing.”

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or