Ready to Relax: Throwback Edisto villages at last seeing home sales, vacation rentals bounce back from economic slowdown

Docks, piers and a boat or two jut into Big Bay Creek on the northern side of Edisto Beach and across from Edisto Island wetlands (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).

From a real estate perspective, quiet Edisto Island and pristine Edisto Beach seem like they sunk in pluff mud a half-dozen years ago and are just now wriggling out.

The idyllic communities continued to feel the ill effects of the late 2000s housing slide after other areas bounced back.

“I tell you, people were just scared away by the meltdown,” says Jim Kempson, long-time agent with Carolina One Real Estate’s Sea Island Group.

Second-home buyers grew reluctant to enter the scenic market 45 minutes from metro Charleston. Fewer newcomers joined the 3,000 or so permanent residents. Beachgoers continued to frequent oceanfront houses, but the rental trade wasn’t as active as a decade ago, and homes languished on the market.

Yet deep in the Lowcountry ooze, there was a gurgling. It was hard to detect right off, but people were starting to vacation again, buying second homes and moving fulltime to laid-back oceanfront Edisto Beach and land-rich waterside Edisto Island.

“I think we are seeing supply go down,” says Matt van Bakergem, broker with Prudential Kapp/Lyons real estate agency in the Edisto area.

“Last year, in the $300,000 to $400,000 (price range), there were a fair amount of homes,” he says. Shoppers started buying the houses, so much so that just a few remain at those prices. Similarly, in the high end “$500,000-$800,000, we are seeing more activity.”

As a result, property seekers who sat on the fence last year when there was plenty of inventory may take the plunge now, worried they’ll lose out. According to economists, today’s historically low mortgage rates below 4 percent likely will start to rise sometime this year.

“People who missed out on things, next time, they’ll think better (of it) and do something,” he says.

Realtors who specialize in or are familiar with the side-by-side Edisto beach and island markets agree the area’s housing stock has rallied in the past year. Home sales are climbing, while prices start to rebound.

“Sales volume is back to normal,” Kempson says. “Our prices: We are still a bargain; we’re still depressed from the peaks.”

Kempson can’t say for sure why. “I just think we are running behind,” he says.

But he sees signs of a price uptick soon. He sold one house for $1.4 million, another on the beachfront for $1,385,000 last Friday.

“We seem to be on the cusp, on the verge of it happening,” Kempson says.

One factor boosting interest in Edisto Island and Edisto Beach properties involves real estate agents promoting the communities outside the region. The most notable area is the Northeast. Cold and snow slammed parts of the region this winter.

“I’ve got several clients from the Northeast — Vermont, New Hampshire — who are determined to move South,” van Bakergem says.

AgentOwned Preferred Group agent Donna Andreano lists 3317 Palmetto Blvd. on Edisto Island for $924,500, dropping the price recently.

“We just advertised through New York (and) on You Tube,” she says.

Andreano intends to champion the 2,712-square-foot house, built in 2007, for its top-notch features. It includes five bedrooms, an elevator and a security system. But she also will promote the house for its Edisto roots.

“It’s kind of specific, you know,” she says. The island and beach towns are “very laid back. It’s not congested at all.” Fishing and golf are two attractions. When people visit or move to Edisto, “it’s relaxation time,” she says.

According to van Bakergem, Edisto also gets exposure from its proximity to Charleston. Sometimes Northeastern residents visit Charleston and “go exploring.” Edisto’s no more than an hour away, he says.

Edisto Island has lagged behind Edisto Beach in recovering from the housing slowdown: Oceanside properties tend to be more popular as a group because they can be leased out for added income, van Bakergem says.

“Most people do rent (their beach homes),” he says. The ratio of second home properties to permanent residences is 80/20. Rental property owners tend to live within five hours of the beach such as in Atlanta, Greenville or Charlotte. They drive down from time to time for a long weekend or other moderate vacation stay.

The most active leasing time is early June to mid-August, when school is out.

Realtors say Edisto, whether island or beach, sells itself with its casual pace, small town feel and breathtaking attractions.

“It’s not over-commercialized. It’s a throwback beach,” van Bakergem says.

“I think it’s going to be known, like Charleston is,” Andreano notes. “That’s both good and bad.”

Kempson describes Edisto as one-of-a-kind, using a word that essentially means not in lockstep with today’s world. “We are an anachronism,” he says.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or

Locations: Charleston, Colleton counties

Number of homes: More than 1,000

Square footage: 361-5,500

Look & feel: The Edisto area really is a tale of two towns. Edisto Island’s a rural, wooded expanse enclosed by rivers and creeks; Edisto Beach is a barrier island, with a small commercial district, on the Atlantic Ocean. The island’s dotted with plantation-style homes on large acres; the beach touts raised cottages lining the shore and back a few blocks. Edisto Beach stands in Colleton County; most of Edisto Island remains in Charleston County. The communities share a few things: an easy-as-she-goes independence, expensive but hardly overpriced residences, pristine views. Youngsters play on rope swings, jump in the ocean, ride bikes. Tourists find their way to dine at fine restaurants; buy antiques or trinkets or play golf; while natives and transplant locals fish, take in the sights and occasionally travel into Charleston or closer large towns.

Homes on market: 200

List prices: $28,000-$2,399,000

Schools: Jane Edwards Elementary; Baptist Hill Middle; Baptist Hill High; Lowcountry Leadership Charter (Charleston County); Hendersonville Elementary, Colleton Middle, Colleton High (Colleton County).

Fun facts: Indigo and later cotton were big crops at one time on Edisto Island; Edisto Beach’s town website answers the query, “Can I get married on the beach?” with “Yes,” while explaining that the public beaches remain in a very natural state and are surrounded by residences.