MOUNT PLEASANT — Like a lot of homebuyers, Shiv Sethi had several specific items on his wish list as he began to search for a new house in downtown Charleston.
Sethi wanted a property with a decent-sized lot in a quiet, walkable neighborhood with easy access to green space.
After all, Sethi wasn’t just buying the home for himself; he had to think of Ellie — his 55-pound, 4-year-old goldendoodle.
Taylor and Brendan Davis had similar requirements as they decided on a new home in Mount Pleasant. The young couple was moving from Tampa, Fla., and had to consider how Tucker — their energetic, people-friendly, 8-month-old English cream golden retriever — would adjust to his new surroundings.
A recent survey by the National Association of Realtors found that pets play a prominent role for homebuyers. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed found that animals, especially dogs, influence buyers’ decisions in searches for new homes. Pet-friendly features such as fenced yards, pet doors and walkable neighborhoods are on the top of buyers' wish lists.
Those pet-friendly features have only been magnified during the pandemic.
“Pets have always been important for buyers, but since the pandemic it has become a huge factor,” said Caroline Perkins, a real estate agent for the Cassina Group who helped the Davis’ find a home in Park West in Mount Pleasant. “Since buyers are home a lot more because of the pandemic, they want more yard space. They want to be able to walk their dogs. They want dog doors. Those features are becoming more and more important.”
Shelter Animals Count, which tracks shelters and rescue activities across the country, found that adoptions were up across the country by 20 percent in 2020. The group, which tracks about 500 rescue organizations nationally, recorded 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in the year before.
Shelters and rescue organizations in the Lowcountry have experienced almost double the number of adoptions since the beginning of the pandemic.
Taylor and Brendan Davis said it took a few extra weeks to adopt Tucker because most of the shelters and breeders they contacted were sold out of dogs.
“It was impossible to find a rescue dog,” said Taylor Davis. “It seemed like everyone was getting a dog during the pandemic.”
Having a neighborhood where they could walk Tucker was a priority when settling on a house. Their home is near Laurel Hill, a county park with several miles of wooded trails.
“We wanted a fenced yard that didn’t back up to anything,” Taylor Davis said. “Having those trails in Laurel Hill was a huge selling point for us. Tucker loves to walk back there, and it’s been great for socializing.”
Had Tucker not been in the picture, the Davises said they probably would have bought a different home.
“We would have probably lived a little closer to downtown, probably wouldn’t have wanted as big a yard,” Brendan Davis said.
Sethi, meanwhile, is still in the house-hunting process. He lives in Union Square on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and works as a private wealth manager. Like many New York City residents, Sethi has found that working remotely during the pandemic has allowed him a certain flexibility in his residence.
“I have clients all over the country, and I think what the pandemic taught a lot of people is that where you physically work is less relevant because of all the virtual tools that are available now,” Sethi said.
Sethi came to Charleston for the first time on vacation in 2015 and instantly fell in love with city’s Southern charm and warm winters. He knew almost immediately that he wanted to move to the Lowcountry, and the pandemic has only accelerated his timetable.
“Working in finance, it would have made the transition to Charleston pretty difficult,” Sethi said. “The pandemic proved that you could live and work outside of New York.”
Ellie is his constant companion, so picking just the right house with the exact amenities is going to be crucial. Taking Ellie out on a walk or to do her business can be a time-consuming chore in Manhattan. He wants more of a low-maintenance experience in Charleston.
“I definitely wanted a nice yard, something where she could run around and get some exercise,” Sethi said. “I wanted a quiet neighborhood, less noisy and clean, and a place that had easy access to the yard. I want to be able to leave my back door open so she can go out when she wants.”
Sethi is still searching for just the right property in downtown Charleston, but is confident he will find it eventually.
“Ellie is part of Shiv’s family, so having a fenced yard was one of those non-negotiable items on his list,” said Ashley Graham, a real estate agent for the Cassina Group. “We’ve had so many clients that have gotten pandemic pets in the last few months, so getting those pet-friendly features is very important. The ability to work from home and having pets has changed certain dynamics in the market.”
Besides fenced yards and walkable neighborhoods, other features that attract pet owners are dog doors, special flooring and mudrooms with animal washing stations.
Those amenities like a fenced yard, a washing station or a dog door shouldn't add any significant up-front costs when buying a home.
"The biggest cost is having a bigger yard for a pet," said Owen Tyler, managing broker of The Cassina Group. "Land is a commodity, so the bigger the lot the more it's going to cost."
Pets, however, could have an impact when selling a home, Tyler said.
"If your house smells like a dog or cat, it's going to lower the value of your home," Tyler said. "If you have pets, we always recommend getting a thorough cleaning before you show the house."