North Charleston hits its stride as hot place to live

Homes in the Oaks at Indigo start in the low $200,000, a particularly attractive price point as housing costs rise in the tricounty area.

Eve Hiott knows the best way to improve your neighborhood and surrounding community is to get involved. It’s what prompted her to run for civic club president of Wando Woods, a neighborhood of about 650 homes just off Interstate 526 near the Ashley River.

Club president for two years, Hiott oversaw an active community of families and seniors. Although she stepped down as president in April, Hiott remains passionate about North Charleston, choosing to focus on the positive aspects of her diverse community.

“We call our neighborhood ‘a hidden jewel,’” Hiott said. “You wouldn’t believe what’s here.”

It’s quite a turnaround for a woman who, growing up in Mount Pleasant, said she never went to live North Charleston. But in 2000, she moved to Wando Woods to be closer to her job with Charleston County. Now she works as an IT project manager for Boeing Co., her office on Faber Place Drive just a short distance from her house.

“I love my job and I love that it’s right here,” she said.

With an average of 43 people moving to Charleston each day, issues of growth and change are regular topics of conversation. And while communities like Mount Pleasant and Summerville wrestle with how to slow the growth, the City of North Charleston is hitting its stride.

The addition of Boeing Co., the retail and commercial development around Tanger Outlets and the large population at Joint Base Charleston have boasted North Charleston’s reputation a desirable place to live. Its central location in the tricountry region, new restaurants and more affordable home prices haven’t hurt either.

Popular Park Circle

Go back in time 15 years and North Charleston’s Olde Village wasn’t the eclectic, hip area it is now. Looking at East Montague Avenue today with almost every spot occupied by a restaurant, bar or small business, it’s hard to believe that back then, your lone dining option was Aunt Bea’s, a restaurant owned by Debbie Summey, wife of longtime North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.

Although Aunt Bea’s closed in 2012, it helped spark a revival in Park Circle, today a hub of culinary choices ranging from gourmet pizza and barbecue to burgers and Vietnamese.

As businesses were taking a chance on Park Circle, residential developers, too, saw the potential for this area. Mixson and Oak Terrace Preserve were among the early developments in the community.

Marcos Vargas is a new home sales agent for Mixson, which is slated to build another 250 single-family homes and townhomes near Park Circle. He said construction should begin later this year or in early 2017.

He credits Park Circle’s culinary explosion with giving the community a real kick start. “It all starts with really good food and grows from that.”

The centralized location and educational options like the top-rated Academic Magnet High School and the addition of a Montessori school all add to the neighborhood’s appeal, Vargas said.

Homes in Park Circle rarely stay on the market for more than 30 days. And, he said, the last home sold in Mixson went for $425,000 – about $236 a square foot. “When we first started, $200 a square foot was unheard of,” Vargas said. “Now, it’s more common than uncommon.”

Wil Riley, CEO of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, can attest to the rising value of Park Circle area homes.

“One of the things we’ve noticed over the last 18 months is the resale home price increases in the Park Circle area,” he said. “The values there are really increasing at a dramatic rate.”

It’s a fun area, Riley said, that’s attracting a younger crowd. “I think that area is going to continue to grow and be a hot spot for North Charleston.”

The allure of Park Circle even won over Andrew Sprague, a former devoted resident of West Ashley’s Avondale community. But when his fiancé, Pam Kylstra, wanted to move back to Park Circle, Sprague begrudgingly agreed.

Now, he’s a die-hard Park Circle resident. He’s smitten with the great homes, established trees and comfortable neighborhood feel. Sprague and his fiancé – who are marrying at Riverfront Park in October – ride bikes to their favorite restaurants less than a mile from their home.

Affordable choices

On the other side of the city, Chad Murdock, community manager for The Oaks at Indigo, has already sold 20 of the 37 homes being developed in this neighborhood near the intersection of Ashley Phosphate and Dorchester roads. Part of the larger, established Indigo Fields, this community is appealing to those seeking a quieter place to live and a short commute to their jobs at Boeing, Bosch and Joint Base Charleston, Murdock said.

Plus a community like The Oaks at Indigo – with home prices starting in the low $200s – attracts residents seeking a more affordable price tag. “Affordability is the No. 1 thing,” Murdock said. “You get more for your money. North Charleston has a lot to offer – more than most people give it credit for. There’s a lot more shopping and dining than there used to be.”

In addition to people moving into Charleston from other states, Murdock said locals are relocating from places like Mount Pleasant and West Ashley where they are cashing in on rising property values and moving to North Charleston where they can have a bigger home.

The city’s amenities and own unique offerings have really made it a special area, Murdock said. “North Charleston doesn’t need Charleston anymore. There’s a lot going on here.”

But, he said, these opportunities won’t last forever. “A lot of people are discovering it. The time is now.”

Selling the city

Bobby Pilch capitalized on North Charleston’s affordability back in 2000 when he and his brother bought a house together in Glyn Terrace, a 1960s neighborhood of mostly brick, ranch-style houses. “Our agent said the Park Circle, Dorchester Road corridor area might be a hot spot in the future,” Pilch recalled. “We didn’t have a big budget so we said, ‘Let’s give this area a shot.’”

Pilch’s brother left the house when he joined the military. Pilch and his wife, Tammy, still live in the house, happy to be in the center of the Charleston area. Pilch, a member of the Air Force Reserves, likes the proximity to Joint Base Charleston. And his wife owns Cakes by Kasarda near Rivers and Cosgrove avenues.

When he’s not helping with the cake shop or fulfilling his Air Force duties, Pilch is selling North Charleston. Part of the group sales team at the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pilch markets the city and the Charleston Area Convention Center to large conferences and groups.

“We’re competing with Charlotte and Jacksonville (Florida), but because Charleston is Charleston, people will forego Charlotte or Jacksonville because they want the history and culture.”

Pilch, who grew up in Goose Creek and graduated from the College of Charleston, has seen first-hand how North Charleston’s appeal as a place to live and do business has boomed.

“North Charleston has nowhere to go but up,” he said. “It’s writing its own history.”