Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Finding a community that’s friendly, well-situated can be as challenging as buying a home

Heather Lake paid $195,000 for her townhome at Heritage Village.

Heather Lake was out of town when she made an offer on a Mount Pleasant townhome that she’d never seen before, but trusted that her real estate agent knew the market and neighborhoods she wanted to consider.

“This was my first-time purchase and I worked with a Realtor to help narrow down my preferences, locales and decipher all the real estate terminology,” Lake says.

Sarah Gipe of Carolina One Real Estate helped Lake find the right home for her.

“She was really great at picking up on what I was looking for and would send me listings that were potential options. So great in fact that when the townhome I purchased came on the market she went to look at it for me as I was on a business trip and I actually put an offer in sight unseen.”

Lake, a financial analyst at Boeing who relocated from California a year ago, moved into the townhome in secluded, tree lined Heritage Village off Mathis Ferry Road in late July. She bought the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath residence for $195,000. That was the list price for the 1,300-1,400-square-foot townhome.

In the Charleston area, many hundreds of house hunters are going through the same process as Lake daily. They’re all looking for a home to purchase. But just as critically, the shoppers are perusing communities, complexes and enclaves to discover the ones that match their personalities, family makeup, jobs and hobbies.

As it turns out, the Lowcountry has scores of communities to investigate, whether Carolina Park or Carolina Bay, Legend Oaks or Crowfield Plantation, Stono Ferry or Park Circle. The Charleston Atlas, published by RLM Enterprises, lists more than 600 subdivisions. And the total tends to leave out townhome and condominium communities.

House searching and community choices go hand in hand. But local experts believe that buyers shouldn’t overlook the importance of finding places where they feel comfortable, since almost every purchaser except those who live way out in the country wind up with a neighbor.

“I think the harder ones are those who move from outside the area,” says David Kent, president of The Real Buyer’s Agent in Mount Pleasant. Those shoppers are unfamiliar with metro Charleston and don’t know right off about neighborhoods close to work, those with swimming pools and other attractions, communities with schools they like nearby and subdivisions within their price range.

Kent, who specializes in helping prospective buyers find homes, suggests that shoppers gather real-time neighborhood impressions. For instance, he recommends house hunters who want to be close to their job drive the route to work during rush hour. Buyers should determine what they want most out of a neighborhood, he says.

Joseph Schachte, who is listing a house in Country Club Estates, says the James Island neighborhood’s known for its amenities. They include a championship golf course laid out in 1925, Olympic-sized swimming pool and top-notch tennis courts.

“This is a family-oriented neighborhood out there,” he says.

The Lowcountry counts close to 15,000 home sales a year, according to Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

“You can find beautiful homes everywhere,” Kent says. But other coveted assets may only be available in a few places. Buyers should focus on neighborhoods close to what they like, such as the beach or golf courses, or what they need such as workplace or medical care. Home buyers seeking a more secluded area might want to check out Edisto Island.

At some point, buyers ought to narrow their geographical focus, considering the Charleston area spans three counties and hundreds of miles.

“You could have a big house (for sale) in St. George, but that’s no good if where you want to be is Mount Pleasant,” Kent says.

Lake says she cut back her areas of interest rather early on, ruling out James Island as too distant and West Ashley for similar reasons. She finally settled on Mount Pleasant, but it wasn’t on a whim: “I spent my time driving around,” she says.

Price was a factor, but she was willing to pay the typical premium on homes in the sought-after East Cooper area.

At some point, Lake realized that she didn’t necessarily have to buy a house; townhomes were plenty large enough. Then she zeroed in on the communities closer to the Ravenel Bridge, notably ones like Heritage Village that are wooded, well landscaped and with a number of older neighbors. The townhome village also stands near stores and restaurants she enjoys frequenting and is close to major roadways such as U.S. Highway 17.

Lake credits her Realtor, Gipe, for spot-on assistance and direction. “Diving right into a new venture there’s so much to learn and she was very helpful in advising in the feel of different neighborhoods. Being able to trust she knew what I was looking for was a huge benefit.”

Lake says she got to see the townhouse the day after she submitted an offer, and “It felt right for me when I did my first walk through.”

In retrospect, Lake says she’s happy with her choice of residence and of neighborhood. “I walk in the door, and it feels like home.”

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