Defined by enchanting southern delight, Charleston, South Carolina, has an abundance to offer homebuyers. World-class restaurants, year-round outdoor activities, and endless quirk and charm in both the architecture and the residents are just a taste of the laid-back lifestyle Charleston offers. Imagine rocking on your new front porch, in a quintessential Charleston Single house you adore, and sipping some sweet tea. A horse-drawn carriage goes by a row of pastel-painted homes. Life is good.

It’s no wonder so many people want to call Chucktown home. The housing market is competitive, so you need to make sure you’re prepared to successfully navigate it — as well as a few red flags you’re likely to encounter.

We spoke with Jonathan Wells, a top local real estate expert with a decade of experience, for the inside scoop on the local market. We also sifted through countless pages of information and statistics to bring you a comprehensive guide of everything you need to know to buy a house in Charleston.

A colorful house to buy in Charleston
Source: (Ella de Kross / Unsplash)

What’s the housing market like in Charleston?

According to Wells, there is hardly any inventory in Charleston in the early months of 2021. This means if you find the home you like, make an offer and make it a good one! He recounts the quick turnaround of sales he had recently, and that homes almost always have multiple offers and sell for above asking price.

The market is hot, especially for property valued over $1 million. In 2020 this price point of homes saw a 144% increase in sales, according to a local Charleston real estate group. This is likely due to Charleston residents relocating for more square footage, and new residents seeking a relaxing lifestyle with year-round outdoor activities.

Charleston’s trending home styles

Charleston is packed with character and history, and that includes the city’s homes. Pastel colors often coat the exterior of homes, perhaps the most famous example being Rainbow Row, a series of 13 brightly colored houses on East Bay Street.

The most common home type in town, the Charleston Single, dates back to the founding of America. Wells describes it as a two-story piazza home with a unique side porch, and says the style originated for the purpose of sleeping on the porch during hot Charleston nights.

Culture and lifestyle

The culture and lifestyle draw many homebuyers to Charleston. The city is home to many start-up businesses, loads of hospitality industry opportunities, world-class restaurants, and more. The lifestyle is laid-back with a focus on water-oriented activities like fishing, boating, and paddle boarding.

Everywhere you look, you’ll find fun fashion and eccentric people. Wells says residents are often sporting bow ties, suit jackets with Bermuda shorts, and lots of exciting colors. The city has a great mix of people of all ages — from those coming to retire, to the young and hip. You’ll also find an abundance of Southern hospitality, with friendly waves and hellos wherever you go.

This enchanting city also has endless areas to explore, like the nine secret alleyways, and some of the town’s best hidden gems, including tea gardens, and Hampton Park, which boasts gorgeous blossoming trees, many amenities, and quite a rich history.

An alleyway next to a house to buy in Charleston.
Source: (David Martin / Unsplash)

What kind of budget do I need to live in Charleston?

Home costs in Charleston can vary widely, depending on the neighborhood and design of the home. So if you want to buy a house in Charleston, the best place to start is to figure out how much you can afford. If your dream is to live near the beach and downtown Charleston, you’re looking at around $450,000 or more as of January 2021, according to Wells.

If you’re interested in James Island, West Ashley or Johns Island areas, for example, home prices would be around $350,000 to $400,000. James Island features a true laid-back lifestyle and is known for Folly Beach and a massive fishing pier. West Ashley offers buyers scenic waterfront vistas and marshes, while Johns Island is the largest island in South Carolina. Johns Island features beautiful views and is home to the world famous 1,500-year-old Angel Oak tree.

If you’re working with a smaller budget, you can get beautiful property within a top-notch school district — and just outside of downtown — for around $300,000 in the Summerville area.

The median home value in February 2021 is $388,851. The median age of residents is 37.6 years old, and the median household income sits at just about $64,000 annually, according to data from the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

Property taxes in Charleston county sit at a mere 0.47%, which is one of the lowest tax rates in the state. A property tax calculator can help you determine a more specific figure to expect regarding property taxes in Charleston.

Red flags for buyers to know

Flooding

Charleston is considered “low country,” meaning it sits below sea level. Wells says that flooding can be a major issue when looking at property, especially in downtown Charleston, where flooding is most common. Standard home insurance policies generally don’t cover flooding, so make sure to talk to your insurer about your options.

Termites

When you buy a house in Charleston, it is important to get not only a standard home inspection, but also a termite inspection. “We have very moist air that [termites] love,” Wells says. He notes that inspectors almost always do a CL-100 inspection, which is an official South Carolina Infestation Report that can only be performed by a qualified, licensed South Carolina inspector to ensure there is no termite damage in the home before you buy.

Extreme weather conditions

Another factor to keep in mind is that in Charleston it can be an extremely hot climate at times. During peak summer months, the heat index can skyrocket in both temperature and humidity, making for an intense sweaty season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On top of extreme heat, hurricanes are common here as well. Hurricanes mostly occur between the months of June and November.

Neighborhoods to consider

On top of the neighborhoods already spoken to above, Wells highlights Old Village and Mount Pleasant, which are close to the vibrant urban center and beaches. The location makes this area super-hot to buyers wanting to be right on the water. Homes downtown that are around 10 minutes to the beach are extremely hot in the market, but cost a pretty penny of $10 million plus.

For young professionals, Wells suggests looking in the Wagener Terrace area of Charleston. This area on the Ashley River has a hip vibe and is home to eclectic restaurants, cool bars, and beautiful green spaces. He notes that this area is being turned around and that homes here go for around $500,000.

If you think these budgets seem a tad out-of-reach for you, Wells suggests looking for homes just outside of downtown Charleston, in Summerville or Kane Bay. These areas boast big developments and offer a lot to buyers, including a highly rated school district, and a more affordable price point, with the median home price sitting at $288,000.

A photo depicting houses to buy next to water in Charleston.
Source: (David Martin / Unsplash)

The best time to buy a house in Charleston

Seasonal trends can greatly affect the housing market in Charleston. Wells advises that the best time to buy is in the colder months, when you can get the best deals. That said, Wells adds:

“I think the best time to buy a house is whenever the right house comes along.”

How to make your offer stand out

With the fast-paced sellers’ market in Charleston, it is important to make your offer stand out when you find the perfect home. Wells says something small that can make a big impact is creating a personal letter about why the home is perfect for you.

“You always want to [say amazing things] about the house and how much you love it,” he says. Wells also advises making sure your offer is strong financially, and includes a large down payment and solid earnest money. A squeaky-clean contract (meaning no contingencies) also will go a long way if you want to buy a house in Charleston.

Discover the importance of using a top agent

The quick-turnaround market in Charleston means it’s more important than ever to work with an agent that will utilize their skills and find you the perfect property.

Having a buyer’s agent on your side is essential to edge out the competition in the hot Charleston housing market. Top agents negotiate purchases that are, on average, 32% lower in cost than competitors, and can help you navigate local nuances, including insurance considerations. Their knowledge of the area means they can help you find a home that fits your priorities, be it top-notch school districts, or being close to nightlife.

There is no denying the historic appeal that Charleston has to offer. Whether you are looking for year-round water activities, a quiet place to retire, or a spot to call home for you and your growing family, Charleston has a neighborhood and charming hospitality for you.

Header Image Source: (Cody Silver / Unsplash)

Buying a house in charming Charleston comes with competition. Learn the secrets to this city, tips to navigating the market, and how to buy your dream home in Chucktown.HomeLight Blog