The Convenience Conundrum

We live in a world where all of the knowledge of the world is a few keystrokes away on a device that we can carry around in our pocket. Anything you can imagine can be ordered and delivered to your door within two days. There is a near-infinite amount of streaming content to entertain us. We know more about “friends” we haven’t seen since college than some of our own family members. Your gourmet coffee maker can brew an individual cup of coffee that’s ready for you when your alarm goes off, your fridge can add milk to your shopping list, an automated robot vacuums your house when you walk out the door, Alexa can adjust the temperature in your house or suggest an umbrella if there is a chance of rain, and your car tells you a better route to take to work because of a wreck. There is an abundance of convenience at our home and in the cities we are surrounded by options for local shopping, dining, entertainment, high-speed internet, cable, employment, schools, housing, and more. We also know that these modern conveniences come at a cost. As we’ve witnessed in nearby Mount Pleasant, which has been one of the fastest growing cities in the US since the downturn in the economy, people flocking to the area to enjoy these conveniences have brought with them a higher cost of living and housing, 24/7 traffic jams, out of control homeowners association rules and costs, and a departure from traditional Southern values.

Just up the road in “L.A.” (that’s Lower Awendaw), residents get a taste of affordable houses with a little space between them and their neighbors with just a short drive to many of these aforementioned conveniences. The farther you drive north, the farther these conveniences get and the more often I am asked by buyers “Where do you do your grocery shopping?”, “What is internet service like?”, or “What do people around here do for fun?”. These are fair questions. Questions from someone who has lived a life of convenience. My wife was one such person who gave me a puzzled look when I explained that where I grew up I had to drive 30 minutes to see a movie or buy groceries and she’s now called McClellanville home since 2006. These type of questions really get to the heart of measuring the conveniences of someone’s current life to an unknown life they may experience if they decide to pull the trigger and move outside of the hustle and bustle of city life.

I’ll be the first to admit that this “alternative lifestyle” is not for everyone. If you can’t survive without a Starbucks umbilical cord, it may be a rough transition. It took my wife some time to adjust after living in a city her whole life. Buyers willing to step outside of their comfort zone and discover true country life in Awendaw, McClellanville, and the surrounding rural areas, begin to learn that there is more to life than modern conveniences. When you skip the drive-thru window and sit down in a local restaurant you meet neighbors and form lasting relationships. When you stop cutting down every tree in sight to build homes you start co-existing with nature and witness it in your own back yard. When you get rid of all the traffic you can actually enjoy the peace and quiet and make it more enjoyable to walk, bike, or even take a golf cart for a spin. When your beaches are only accessible by boat you find a sanctuary with miles of uninhabited shell-covered beaches for yourself. When you trade your planned parks and paved “nature trails” for hundreds of thousands of acres of protected forests you witness the glory of nature. When you’re out of sugar or eggs you ask your neighbor rather than going to the store. You take a step toward self-sufficiency where conveniences take a back seat to things, meaning-of-life kind of things, that you might have missed if you were sitting at the drive-thru or staring at a phone.

I’ll leave you with this final thought that I enjoy sharing with visitors to the area that may sound odd coming from a real estate agent trying to “sell the area”: Nobody HAS to live in McClellanville! There is no Boeing or Volvo factory attracting workers that have to live nearby. Housing isn’t incredibly affordable and there isn’t a fantastic public transportation system ready to whisk them to work. Our school system isn’t ranked #1 in the country (but check out CREECS, we love it). There are even times that the mosquitoes will dang near carry you off (rare, but it happens). If we “solved” all of those problems, we wouldn’t be the unique community that we are today. You see, it’s these inconveniences that help us keep it just the way we like it. It sorts out the people who can truly appreciate everything that the area has to offer and place a higher value on these resources. These people, whether they were born here or just moved here yesterday, are the key to fighting for its preservation for future generations.

Growth and the Future of The Bulls Bay Area to be Determined by Awendaw

Fear of growth and development is on the minds of Bulls Bay area residents as urban sprawl creeps outward from Mount Pleasant (watch the growth of the area using the Growth Tool below). Builder D.R. Horton has begun work on their latest development known as Bee’s Crossing which plans to squeeze 90 homes onto 32 acres. While the postal service originally issued this area an Awendaw zip code, it has long been annexed by the Town of Mount Pleasant and is located in what is now commonly called “North Mount Pleasant”. Traveling further north, you encounter the low-density communities of Sewee Preserve followed by the Bulls Bay Golf Club. This is the farthest property annexed by the Town of Mount Pleasant and the beginning of the Town of Awendaw, the proverbial line in the sand.

Mt. Pleasant has recently passed legislation limiting the number and type of building permits that will be issued each year. Those fed-up with the growth of Mount Pleasant (every one that I have talked to) see it as too little, too late. While it will have a slight effect on slowing growth in their area, Awendaw may actually be more affected by the passage of this bill. Developers that were perfectly content with continuing to squeeze housing projects into the few remaining spaces in Mt. Pleasant are going to have to sideline some projects for future years and look outside of Mt. Pleasant for greener pastures. The abundant land in Awendaw seems to be just what they are looking for.

Awendaw’s residential zoning hinges on the presence of public water or sewage which permits a minimum lot size as small as 0.29 acres while it reverts to 0.69 acres without them. The Town of Awendaw has put in place a small public water system with lines running outward from its town hall water tower. To make the project financially feasible it must really be scaled to many more customers. Public sewage has also been discussed with the latest negotiations to incorporate the system in with the building of public schools and a residential development and have the final treated effluent dispersed in the town’s park.

The difficulty of public utilities in Awendaw lies in its decentralized rural nature. While McClellanville formed along the banks of Jeremy Creek and grew outward gradually as a more centralized community, Awendaw has large swaths of the Francis Marion National Forest slicing through it. There is also a large amount of land which has been strategically preserved from development through the placement of conservation easements. However, there also exist numerous large acreage tracts that have been patiently growing pine trees and waiting for the demand that seems to be building.

Developers have broken ground on a new development called Awendaw Village. The proposed 1/2 acre lots sparked concern but on closer inspection, the overall density of the community turns out to be less than 1 home for every two acres because of green spaces and wetlands. The developer is beginning with just 14 of 41 planned homes in the first phase. Chalk it up as a “win” for the type of controlled growth that could maintain the rural way of life, but this hundred-acre tract is dwarfed in comparison to some of the larger undeveloped parcels. If any of these other tracts were allowed to be developed at close to 1/4 acre-sized home sites it could double the population of the town and forever transform the rural face of Awendaw. Most of the residents that I know are opposed to this transformation and taking a stand against the uncontrolled growth they witnessed in Mount Pleasant. Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Coastal Conservation League have also joined in to prevent disruption in this keystone community situated between the National Forest and the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge.

Aerial Shot of Awendaw Village under construction

In contrast to Awendaw’s zoning, unincorporated Charleston County surrounding Bulls Bay provides for mostly 1 home for every 1 to 10 acres and the Town of McClellanville allows for only 1 home per acre or 3/4 acre in the Historic District. McClellanville is also blissfully encumbered by its geographic distance from the growth of the Charleston Metro area and separated by larger undevelopable tracts of the Francis Marion National Forest. The residents, town council, and mayor are unified with a preservationist mindset and a consolidated effort to reject public sewer and water, multi-family and high-density zoning. There are certainly some larger tracts of land that will be subdivided and vacant lots between homes which have slowly been filling in with homes, but the underlying zoning and mood of the community working together gives hope against it losing its small-town feeling.

North of “East of the Cooper”

Volume6-articlea.jpegWhen I began my real estate career a decade ago, I would estimate that only 5% of buyers in the Bulls Bay area were moving from Mt. Pleasant. In recent times, people leaving Mt. Pleasant are making up roughly half of our buyer activity. The explosive growth of that area has people looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Mt. Pleasant. We speak with people every day and whether they moved to the city 5 years ago or 25 years ago, they are saying that it just isn’t the same place anymore. The common theme in their request is peace and quiet that comes with more land, lower home density, and less commercialization and the Bulls Bay area delivers exactly that.
Based on this growing demographic, I thought it would be good to address some of the frequently asked questions we hear from people looking at homes and land in the area and these are certainly not specific to only those moving from Mt. Pleasant.
Future Growth – If your reason for moving is to escape overdevelopment, the first question you may ask is whether or not the Bulls Bay area will suffer the same fate in a few years if everyone moves here next. While I can’t predict the future, I can discuss some of the factors protecting the area and guiding future development. The protected lands of the Francis Marion National Forest and Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge bring with them groups fighting for preservation of the area such as the Coastal Conservation League. Unincorporated Charleston County and the Towns of Awendaw and McClellanville share a common goal in preserving the existing way of life through conservation and zoning. Awendaw has some large tracts of land which may be developed and increase the population and services, however home density plans to remain rural. The Town of McClellanville has passed numerous rules to protect its rural nature including maximum home size limits of 3500 sq.ft., 1 acre lot minimums, and commercial and sign restrictions to protect the highway corridor from becoming over-commercialized.
Well and Septic Systems – With few exceptions, the Bulls Bay area is served by well and septic systems which also serve to protect our rural nature. Paradise Island has public water and sewer and the Town of Awendaw has begun extending public waterlines from their Town Hall to residents on parts of Doar and Seewee Roads and is seeking funds to continue this project, but there is currently no public sewer system. Wells in the area are typically dug to a depth of around 60 feet (costing around $3,000) and produce clean drinking water. Traces of sulfur are common in Awendaw and iron is common in McClellanville, however both can be treated and removed with on-premise water treatment. There are several types of septic systems that can be approved depending on the soil condition and their costs can vary from $3,500 to as high as $20,000 in some rare cases. Volume6-articleb.jpg
Commuting – Many people moving here will continue to commute to Mt. Pleasant or Charleston for work and they fear moving farther away and increasing their drive. I put together the picture on the right to illustrate how long it takes to drive from different locations into or out of Mt. Pleasant and although the distance is much greater to McClellanville and Awendaw, the actual commute time isn’t so bad because you are driving on open roads with no traffic or stop lights. The most common thing that I hear echoed from commuters from Awendaw and McClellanville is that the drive is worth it when they get to come home to a place that is truly relaxing.
Modern Conveniences – Those used to the conveniences of city life may find moving out of the range of pizza delivery a scary thought. McClellanville is nearly a half hour drive to the closest grocery store, fast food, bank, etc. Many residents become more self-sufficient and group their errands together rather than making lots of trips; an extra fridge, chest freezer, or large pantry doesn’t hurt either. It’s not uncommon to hear, “I’m going to town, do you need anything?” in McClellanville and it is implied in the statement that Mt. Pleasant is said “town”. McClellanville and Awendaw also each have a local Dollar General, which probably won’t suit all of your shopping needs, but is great at supplementing the basics like bread, milk and toilet paper between trips when you just need a few things to pull dinner together.
Also on the note of modern conveniences are household services. Most of the area is serviced by TDS Telecom who offers home phone and hi-speed internet, which is fast enough to stream Netflix. There is not a cable company, so Dish Network and DirecTV are common providers of cable television channels. Residents of McClellanville enjoy free trash collection as part of their taxes, but the rest of the area takes their waste and recycling to Charles- ton County convenience centers.
Schools – Mt. Pleasant schools are known for their exceptional test scores and scholastic opportunities and if you have children enrolled there, moving out of the district is an understandable concern. McClellanville and most of Awendaw make up Charleston County School District 1 and are served by St. James Santee Elementary and Lincoln Middle-High School. There is also top-ranked Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School (or CREECS for short) in McClellanville which serves K-8th grades. Future plans for the district are currently under discussion, however historically, trans- fers by District 1 residents to attend schools in District 2 have been approved.
Final Word – MCVL Realty was founded on serving this rural niche and we are experts in all aspects of sales in the area from homes to land, residential to commercial, waterfront, acreage and more. We live and breathe it every day and make our livings helping newcomers to the area find their dream property. Agents not knowledgeable about construction, septic systems, wells, wetlands, docks, local zoning, restrictions, etc. can unintentionally do a lot of harm to their clients through their inexperience. We have seen first-hand these mistakes cost buyers thousands and also make them miss out on the property of their dreams. Before signing anything with an agent you should always explore how many properties (especially land if you are buying land) they have sold in the specific area you are looking in and determine their local knowledge of that area. We’re always happy to meet for a cup of coffee and discuss your goals with no commitment needed.

3 Ways You Can Help Toms River New Jersey

What do the people of Toms River, New Jersey have in common with the people of McClellanville? Well not a lot, other than generous caring hearts.   23 years ago, in the darkest hours of McClellanville following Hurricane Hugo, footage of the shrimp boats leaning on houses, trees through homes, and an entire town covered in mud, destruction, and chaos streamed  across the news of the nation.   The plight of our tiny village registered with the residents of Toms River and within hours they had begun planning relief efforts to help our ravaged town.  Word spread through out their community on a local morning talk radio show and an outpouring of human generosity filled 38 trucks with donated goods accompanied by countless volunteers giving more of themselves than we can imagine for a town full of strangers.  It’s hard to imagine getting through that time without their, and many other, generous donations.
Toms River, New JerseyFast forward 23 years and Toms River is the one in need, having recently been struck by Superstorm Sandy.  Several people formed relationships with some of those volunteers through all the years and have been reaching out to them to see what we can do to help out our mismatched sister-city.

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Small Homes on the Rise in McClellanville

Average Size of US Single-Family Home
Average Size of US Home

The downturn in the economy has many downsizing their needs. The average size of homes built in America dipped for the first time in decades and when asked about the expectations for the home of 2015, Stephen Melman, Director of Economic Services at the National Association of Home Builders says that builders are anticipating that homes will continue to shrink in size.  The Tiny House Blog follows the extreme side of this building trend featuring homes with 200-400 sq.ft. floor plans for the ultimate minimalist.
McClellanville local, Glenn Racine recently built himself a 432 sq.ft. cottage with a 90 sq.ft. sleeping loft.  Much of the material used was salvaged from places like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores and the entire home is efficiently heated and cooled with a mini-split air conditioner.   Glenn then assisted an artist friend with health issues in building a similarly-sized home funded primarily through donations.

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Spring Brings Rebirth in a Small Town

mcclellanville springWe’ve had a mild winter this year and spring is already beginning to show her colors, but in many ways it has seemed like winter for years, I am reminded today however, “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”  ~Hal Borland
This morning I am being continually reminded of a rebirth that is occurring here in McClellanville under our feet.  Like most change in McClellanville it doesn’t happen in broad sweeping movements, but in gentle strokes.
The cries of my newborn child as my first comfort him as he has seen us do so many times before remind me why I made the move from a secure job in a distant land to return home for a different type of security more than 5 years ago.

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McClellanville Deal of the Week: 528 Pinckney Street

528 Pinckney Street, known as “White Gables”, is for sale. This isn’t news, it’s been on the market for over 4 years, but now it is banked-owned and listed by Beach and River Homes and has been reduced to the shockingly low asking price of $150,000.  “4 years?”, many people ask.  Well yes, but it was introduced to the market at $688,000 when I had a competing home listed for $750K that had been completely remodeled and this home needs a lot of work.  Over the years the price just kept dropping along with the market and was listed at $258K most recently before the bank finally foreclosed and slashed the price by over $100K.   I’ve shown this house more than any other house in town and  have learned that historic fixer-uppers just aren’t for everybody.  It is going to take the right buyer even at this price to want to restore National Historic District landmark to it’s former glory.  I’d be sure to have at least $100k that you are ready and able to spend on repairs because you just don’t know what you’re going to find once you start opening it up.  That being said, $150K is a steal and this house is the buzz of McClellanville.  The new owners will surely be the envy of the town and should get used to hearing “We almost bought this home ourselves” on a regular basis.

White Gables
White Gables – $150,000

Most people that buy a home do so for their own enjoyment, whether full-time or part-time, but today I wanted to have a discussion about the other side of the coin.  Using this home as an example, I want to show the various investment opportunities that one can explore when buying a home.   One of the advantages of being the only real estate agent in the area who also specializes in rental management is that I know these markets and the prices that homes can fetch.  I should probably disclose that all buyers should do their own research and due diligence and understand that I am using big round numbers for easy math and to make examples.   Contact me directly to come up with a detailed analysis of your needs and how a home can work for you.
First of all, appraisals aside, they are not making any more road frontage along Pinckney Street in this most historic avenue of homes just down from the boat landing. A vacant 2/3 acre lot such as this would fetch at least $150,000 even in todays market. You get the bonus of a home and a garage on the ground level which can not be duplicated under existing building codes.
The cost to renovate will vary depending on the decisions how far you want to take things, but I think it is safe to say that you’ll want to spend at least $50,000 and probably more like $100,000.   Investors should be aware of the rule that does not allow you to spend more than half the value of the home ($75K in this case) on improvements every 5 years without bringing the entire home up to code, which in this case would include the very impractical feat of raising it 10 feet off the ground.   You can and should be able to get a variance for this particular home however because most would agree that it is better to restore old homes to protect the essence of McClellanville than to modify or demolish these treasures.
Now let’s look at what could be done with this home.  Well, sure, you could live in it, but that’s not very creative.  The home is zoned in the historic residential zone which only allows for single family residences, so short of moving your parents or children in with you, that’s not paying any extra bills.  So what now?

Flip It

house-flipping-for-dummiesHouse “flipping” got a bad name 5 years ago when you could turn on TLC or HGTV and every idiot who couldn’t swing a hammer was making $500K on their west coast rehab…fast forward to the present and for some reason California has one of the highest percentage of foreclosures and upside down home ownership, go figure.  The numbers look pretty good on this house though.  After purchase price, repairs, carrying costs, and real estate commission to sell you’d probably have $275-300K into the home and could hopefully ask $350-400K in return, but every month it’s sitting on the market your profit is counting down.   You’ve also put in a lot of hard work and are paying taxes on the profit, so if you’ve already got a nine-to-five it might not be for you.

Long-term Rental

Well you could also do all the repairs and rent it out long-term and probably fetch about $1200-$1500/month depending on the finishing touches, but that is the top of McClellanville’s rental market (waterfront could fetch more, but are more profitable as short-term rentals) and renters are scarce, but not impossible to find.  Your mortgage payments if you financed the purchase and your improvement and are paying taxes and insurance are going to be around $1750, so you’re losing money each month (good investors try to avoid doing this).  Combine this with house flipping approach and try to rent while you sell and you may be able to hold out for the perfect buyer, but you’re going to need a patient renter that doesn’t mind showings and a month-to-month lease.

Vacation Rental

vacation-rentalShort-term or vacation rentals is also a possibility in this area although most people who want this amount of space want to spend the extra money for waterfront with a dock.  If you average $1000/week and figured a conservative 50% occupancy, you’re making about $2200/month but your expenses (including marketing, insurances, taxes, and incidentals) are going to shave that down to around $1500/month but you can count on that occupancy rate to improve each year as you build up return guests.

Rent a Portion

There is a provision in McClellanville ordinances that allow for a portion of a home to be rented as long as it is separate and distinct from the home and is under 800 square feet.  That means it’s own entrance and kitchen and doesn’t work very well in this home but in the historic district you’re talking about $750/month in rent and you can now live there with a mortgage payment down around $1000.

B&B

bed-and-breakfastThe final option that I’ve come up with is to manage the home as a bed and breakfast.  McClellanville has supported many different types in the past and truly is the perfect setting for this type of accommodation.  The law allows for only 1/3 of the home to be used for the purposes of the guest, which means that 2/3 or more must be split between the owner’s private living quarters or common area for guests.   In this home this basically allows for two of the very large rooms to be guests suites.  Each suite could rent for $100/night and I think that you could assume 40% occupancy for the first room and 20% for the second which would come out to $1825/month before taxes, marketing, and insurance whittled it down to around $1200, but remember you’ve got the benefit of still having most of the home to occupy as well. Running a B&B (scheduling renters, changing sheets, cooking, entertaining, etc) is certainly not for everyone, but when you figure that each year the return should grow, you could soon be enjoying a mortgage free home it’s not a bad option to have.
Investment property doesn’t have to be the bane of the neighborhood.  When properly cared for and managed rental properties of all types can contribute to the overall improvement of an area.  Short-term rentals stimulate the local economy without much negative impact (I hope) while long-term rentals allow for a greater diversity of the population such as starter families that may not be financial able to purchase a home but are still involved in local activities.  Even if this home slips through your fingers, don’t be afraid to give me a call and let me know what your dreams and aspirations are and I will see what I can find for you.
Update: I received a tremendous outpouring of responses to this article which really shows that the market is not as bad as you hear.  I showed the house to two prospective buyers and had many calls from latecomers alas the sellers have accepted a contract and the sale is pending.  This contract was actually submitted with 24 hours of the huge price drop although they did wait through the weekend for other offers.  The accepted offer was actually for $5,000 above the asking price.  The moral of this story is to get your financial ducks in a row because you don’t know when the next deal will come along.  You can’t truly be “in the market” for a home if you don’t have a pocket full of money or a pre-qualification letter from a bank.

2nd Annual Jeremy Creek Triathlon for the Weary – June 11th, 2011

Click Image for Event Flyer
Click Image for Event Flyer

Don’t let the word “Triathlon” scare you away, this is a laid back, non-competitve event consisting of a paddle, parade, and a picnic.  In fact, the event planners warn that “serious competitors will be fed to alligators”, so leave your A-game at home and just come out with the family to to enjoy a leisurely time on the water and walking down our oak lined avenues.
The event begins on Saturday, June 11th at 10am at the town boat landing with a kayak (donated by Nature Adventure Outfitters) paddle out to birthday island (first spit of land  between ICW and Five Fathom creek) and back, then the group parades from the boat landing to the restaurant’s where participants will enjoy a picnic on the porch at T.W. Graham’s or patio at Pinckney Street Kitchen.  The cost for the event is $33 and includes kayak rental and t-shirt!
Proceeds from this event go to support a really great cause called Begin with Books, which seeks to improve childhood literacy at an early age by providing area residents with 1 book each month from birth to 5 years old.  $33 covers one year of books for one child and can make a huge difference in the child’s development and attitude toward reading.  A donation of $165 will buy a complete library of 60 books for a child. You can also follow this cause and the event on facebook.
Registration is easy, but necessary to do so early to ensure that enough t-shirts are ordered and kayaks are provided.  If you will be attending, email elizabeth_livingston@charleston.k12.sc.us today with your t-shirt sizes and bring a check to the boat landing on the day of the event.

Plane in Jeremy Creek

plane-at-Leland-Marina
I got a phone call Saturday morning telling me that I should go down to the dock of Palmer’s Point and take a look across the creek.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw a plane pulled up at Leland Marine next to the typical array of of yachts, house boats, shrimp boats, and barges.  McClellanville’s local librarian, Pat Gross shared a few more pictures of the plane actually cruising down the creek and taking off and the heart-touching story behind the pilot.

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