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.

McClellanville’s First Spec Home in a Decade Sells Before C.O. Granted

That title may not make sense to everyone so let me define a couple of terms here. A “Spec Home” is one built as a speculative venture. It is a new construction home built for sale by the builder without having a specific buyer in mind and is sold for profit. “C.O.” stands for Certificate of Occupancy and is the document granted when a home passes its final building inspection; in other words, it has been approved to be lived in.

In 2018, MCVL Realty entered into a listing agreement with Longfield Residential to list for sale a spec home they were to construct in McClellanville. While Awendaw has seen many spec homes built and sold, this was a big deal in McClellanville because the last spec home built was listed for sale in 2007 but never sold by the builder due to the downturn in the economy. Sadly, the bank ended up foreclosing on the builder’s home before finally selling it in 2010 for significantly less than the builder had put into the beautiful home. We explained these facts to the father and son builders, Daes and McLain Manning, but convinced them that the market was ready for this type of property as well as the success others were having in Awendaw. Oliver Thames assisted them in locating and acquiring the land at 325 Mercantile Road as well as the features and pricing of the project. The property was initially listed using only home plans, but once the home was close enough to completion that people could tour the property interest really began to build. Oliver hosted multiple open houses in these final stages and was ultimately able to sell the home for $540,000 before the home was even completed and the C.O. issued.

The relevance of this from a builder and investor standpoint is that once a home is finished and has not sold it is costing them money and tying up their resources. We look forward to working with Deas and McLain on future projects and would love to work with other great builders. If you aren’t a builder but would like to invest in speculative building in the area we are happy to help match you with local builders and assist in that manner.

MCVL Realty Sells McClellanville’s Most Expensive Home

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On March 25th, 2019, 642 Thomas Pinckney Court sold for $1,580,000. The property was listed by Daniel Bates of MCVL Realty and went under contract after 24 days on the market. Excluding large acreage plantation tracts, this is the second highest valued sale in McClellanville history topped only by the previous owners purchasing this same home new in 2005. It was purchased at that time for $1,695,000 showing that the luxury market has done well to recover since the downturn. Prior to the sale, MCVL Realty managed the property as a vacation rental known as “Point of View” and the new owners will continue to welcome vacation renters through MCVL Realty.

The home features 6 bedrooms and 7.5 bathrooms but its greatest asset is the most incredible view that I have ever seen from a property in my life! As I wrote in the listing description, “Resting at the confluence of Jeremy Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway, this lowcountry home offers breath-taking panoramic views of the protected creeks, marshes, and barrier islands that make up the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge and Bulls Bay. Enjoy the daily passage of shrimp boats on their journey down Jeremy Creek and out Five Fathom Creek to the Atlantic ocean and back again with their day’s haul each evening, as well as yachts and sailboats traveling on the ICW.”

Spring 2019 Market Update

As I write this report we have yet to have that perfect week with temperatures above 70° that typically marks the official spring real estate rally. In truth, there really hasn’t been a tremendous seasonal slowdown, to speak of. The market just kept humming along right through winter but I expect that we are on the verge of things really heating up just as soon as the temperature does! Despite the political dysfunction in Washington
we’re experiencing record low unemployment and high consumer confidence. The stock market is said to be on the longest bull run in US history with the Dow Jones quadrupling in the last 10 years, but it has wavered in recent months. US real estate markets have also been consistently appreciating during this same 10 year period. Some coastal markets, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York have seen such rapid appreciation that outpaced wage increases that it has finally led to stagnant growth and even declines in the form of a market correction.

Regionally, the Charleston Metro area has seen healthy market increases led by Mount Pleasant, which has been one of the fastest growing cities in the US since 2009, but it too has been experiencing a market slow down and pricing push-back. Comparing year-to-year sales in Mount Pleasant from 2017 to 2018 we see that the average sales price increased 5% but the number of sales decreased by 8% despite roughly the same amount of new listings in each year.

It’s hard to compare markets as diverse in size as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and McClellanville/Awendaw, but one measuring stick we can use is to look at the number of “months of inventory” in each market. This data takes the total number of listings in an area and divides it by the number of sales in that area in a given month. It’s basically a gauge of supply and demand, so a high number of months of inventory would tell you that there is a large supply of property with limited demand resulting in a buyer’s market. A low number of months of inventory would tell you that the demand is high and indicate a seller’s market. The chart shows the average annual months of inventory in each market over the last decade. In 2009, the market was at its worst and we had a backlog of properties listed for sale and nobody to buy them. As the market improved you can see that all 3 markets saw improving
months of inventory. Charleston leveled off between 2016 and 2017 and then actually increased last year. Mount Pleasant has been ever-so-slightly inching up each of the last 3 years indicating that their market has been slowing down. In McClellanville and Awendaw the number of months of inventory continues to decrease showing a strong and healthy market.

As a sub-market, we often see that our indicators are trailing behind those that we see in the rest of the Lowcountry, which itself is typically trailing major markets on the west coast, Florida and the northeast. The Bulls Bay area has still not fully rebounded to the pre-recession property values, but this moderate “slow and steady wins the race” market appreciation also means that buyers can still find value in our market and that we’re less likely to experience any market corrections. Awendaw continues to show
stability with a balanced market providing land and homes at prices that buyers are willing to pay but clear push-back on
unrealistic listing prices. In McClellanville, the vacant land market has been demonstrating a recent flurry of activity after little growth over the last few years. Home values continue to appreciate with homes under 1500 sq.ft. fetching record prices. In both McClellanville and Awendaw there is a clear favor for newer and updated homes fetching a significantly higher price while homes with deferred maintenance are showing longer days on market to find the right buyer.

The massive growth and change in appearance of Mount Pleasant from a small town to a bustling city has had the unintended consequence of driving a lot of residents out of town. We’ve seen a steady increase in the number of buyers coming from Mount Pleasant to our market over the last 3 years and they now represent roughly half of our buyer pool. They are trading traffic jams for Awendaw Green’s “Barn Jams”, 1/4 acre lots for acreage, and HOA gym cards for back-yard chickens. A strong supply of buyers from a city the size of Mount Pleasant can provide a landslide of
volume for a place with as few listings as McClellanville and Awendaw. These buyers, however, are proving more particular than the average buyer in their preference for turn-key homes with modern finishes. Nearly everyone that we have worked with moving from Mount Pleasant has gained quite a bit of equity in their home and are getting so much more for their money in our market. Should Mount Pleasant experience a market correction it should have little impact on our market because they would still be able to sell for a profit and at the end of the day, Mount Pleasant buyers aren’t moving up or down, they are moving over. They are driven by the fact that they no longer recognize the town they fell in love with.
Another big factor driving sales are the incredibly low interest rates. When I closed on my house last November, I was rushing to lock in an interest rate below 5% and the consensus was that they would keep rising. Fast forward just a few short months and we’re back down in the low 4’s and the Fed chairman has said that there are no plans for rate increases for the rest of the year. Combine these low rates with the high number of buyers in their 20’s and 30’s finding success in the economy and beginning the home-ownership phase of their life and you have a recipe for a successful housing market for the rest of the year.

Charter School and Sewee Summit Breathe New Life into McClellanville

If the overall state of the world has got you down, I wanted to share a little good news with you.  In the past couple of months we have seen great strides in resolving McClellanville’s two greatest deficits; Education and Employment.
This summer brought news that the Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School had gained approved by the state charter school board.  This school, which will me most likely begin it’s life at Archibald Rutledge Academy’s facilities, will be publicly funded and free to attend but will operate autonomously from the Charleston County School Board.  Decisions governing the school will be made by a local board of teachers, parents, and community leaders with the best wishes of the children placed first.  As the name implies, education at the school will be intertwined with the rich natural resources that we have here, raising a generation of children who appreciate and understand the bountiful resources that nature has bestowed upon us.   The school is able to attract students from beyond Charleston county, with enrollment open to all South Caroline residents. This means that students living in nearby Berkeley and Georgetown counties will be able to attend.  The school will open it’s doors in 2012 teaching Kindergarten through 5 or 6th grade, with the potential to grow to a full K-12 school in the coming years.  For those with a family, or plans to start one, this is a monumental achievement that offers parents struggling with the choosing between local public schools or cross-district enrollment a great opportunity.

Read moreCharter School and Sewee Summit Breathe New Life into McClellanville

New McClellanville Bumper Stickers

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I have just received a new shipment of McClellanville bumper stickers.  I had a little fun with the design and added a picture of McClellanville’s unofficial mascot; the mosquito.
These bumper stickers are completely free and available at our office at 824 Pinckney Street in Downtown McClellanville.

McClellanville Holiday Art Walk

McClellanville Christmas LightsFriday, December 3rd  (tonight) from 5-8 p.m. and Saturday, December 4th from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the business district of Pinckney Street in “downtown” McClellanville will be transformed into a shopper’s paradise as local businesses, artists, and craftsmen showcase their works in the 3rd Annual Village Holiday Art Walk.   There will be live music, food, furniture, antiques, collectibles, clothes, paintings, drawings,  jewelry, pottery, photography, books, and more all from hard-working, local artists.

Read moreMcClellanville Holiday Art Walk

Fall Events in McClellanville

Plenty to do on the events calendar over the next couple of weeks in McClellanville as we enter into fall and the chill in the air hopefully fights off the mosquitoes.  I’m also particularly proud because I built all of the websites mentioned in this article.
October 26th at 7pm – Candidate Forum
October 30th at 10am- Eggstravaganza
October 30th at 4:30pm – ARA Halloween Carnival
November 6th – Children Clothing Sale
November 6th at 6pm – Village Museum Oyster Roast

Read moreFall Events in McClellanville