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Southern Charm: The Real Estate Market in South Carolina and Georgia

South Carolina’s Charleston and Georgia’s Atlanta and Savannah have always proved popular with the pandemic further driving demand—Luxury Defined talks to the experts about the lifestyle and investment potential

If you’re considering a move to Charleston in South Carolina, or Atlanta or Savannah in Georgia, you’re not alone. The real estate markets in these three locations have all been in a state of frenzy as buyers seek to secure new homes with the pandemic increasing demand for more space. Home values have increased in all three areas and buyers need to make decisions quickly as properties typically sell in days. Read on for expert advice on the lifestyle and investment potential of these popular destinations, and predictions as to what might happen to the market in the months ahead.

Gracious Charleston, South Carolina

“If you’re thinking of moving to South Carolina, you’re making a terrific choice,” says Lyles Geer, president and broker-in-charge at William Means Real Estate.  The mild climate equates to more time in the sun, whether at the beach, on your boat, playing with your children at the park, or sipping sweet tea at an outdoor cafe, he says.

In particular, Geer recommends Charleston for its beaches, award-winning cuisine, artistic traditions, golf courses, and gracious hospitality. There are also top medical facilities and the city’s proximity to Charleston International Airport. “You’re never more than 35 minutes away,” he adds.

Tree-lined Church Street with a view of the Dock Street Theater
In the middle of Church Street is Dock Street Theater, soon to enter its fourth century. It is home to many of Charleston’s cultural institutions including Charleston Stage, which produces more than 100 performances each year. Credit: Getty Images

Geer describes Charleston as good for young families and retirees alike, both drawn by the lifestyle. While each area—­including the Historic District, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Daniel Island, West Ashley, and James Island—has its own unique character, each also has restaurants, culture, and activities on offer.

“From visiting museums, spending a day at the beach, or exploring one of our historical parks and gardens, there is always a new place to see. It’s easy to try new activities like golf, tennis, or sailing, or if the arts are more your style, you’re in luck as local festivals take place almost every month of the year. Pop into an art gallery or spend an evening enjoying a show at the historical Dock Street Theatre or Gaillard Center,” Geer suggests.

Trees and walkway at Waterfront Park, Charleston
Charleston's Waterfront Park, comprising more than 8 acres (3 ha), overlooks the Cooper River and Charleston Harbour. It has gained national acclaim for its wide riverfront walking paths and views. Credit: Getty Images

Local festivals include Lowcountry Oyster Festival, Southeastern Charleston Wine + Food Festival, Fireworks at Patriot’s Point, MOJA Arts Festival, and Holiday Festival of Lights, to name but a few.

Like other locations, the South Carolina area has become increasingly sought-after during the pandemic. “The increase in real estate sales in 2020 and 2021 has been monumental”, Geer says, “although this year, sales are slowing a little due to multiple factors including inflation and stock market volatility.”

Despite this, demand continues to be strong. “It looks like inflation and interest rate increases will continue throughout the rest of the year. The real estate market slowdown will be small though, as demand remains high with a limited inventory of homes on the market,” he says.

On the Market

Waterside Paradise in Charleston

Large house on the waterfront with boat jetty and greenery
This waterfront property has four bedrooms, five full baths, and one half bath. There’s also a media room with built-in entertainment system, an office with 280-gallon reef tank, and an exercise room.

With unparalleled 180-degree views of the Coburg Cut, this custom-built home embraces the Lowcountry’s lifestyle. A boater’s paradise, there’s a deep-water dock with boatlift. There’s also a new swimming pool, hot tub, outdoor cabana with walk-in shower, and a koi pond with waterfall on this estate of more than half an acre (0.2 ha). Venture inside and you’ll find hardwood floors, paneled ceilings, and a wood-burning fireplace.

Desirable Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta is a great location choice, not least because “it’s significantly more affordable than other great states like California and New York,” says Molly Carter Gaines of Ansley Real Estate. She recommends neighborhoods such as Druid Hills, Morningside, Virginia Highland, Ansley Park, and Inman Park.

Piedmont Park, now a 200-acre (80 ha) green space in the heart of Atlanta, was originally owned by the Walker family who bought it for $450 in 1834. Today, more than six million people visit each year, and the park plays host many events. Credit: Getty Images

“Druid Hills is known for its classic, historical homes designed by renowned architects like Neel Reid and Walter T. Downing. The neighborhood was developed by Frederick Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City, and the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina,” she says.

“Then there’s highly desirable and walkable Morningside and Virginia Highland, which have a beautiful, eclectic mix of homes ranging from 1930s bungalows to 6,000-square-foot (557 sq m) new build properties.

Meanwhile, Ansley Park also has an incredible array of historical and new build homes styles, and is adjacent to the bustling Midtown district with the High Museum of Art, the Margaret Mitchell house, the Fox Theatre, and Atlanta’s crown jewel, Piedmont Park,” she says.

In terms of buyers, Gaines says, “I help everyone from empty nesters looking to begin their next chapter in Atlanta, growing families who need more space, doctors hoping to land close to Atlanta hospitals, tech start-up professionals, and attorneys.”

Designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin P. Burnham in a Neoclassical-Renaissance Revival style, the Georgia State Capitol Building is located in the downtown business district of Atlanta. Credit: Getty Images

During the pandemic Gaines notes that, “Virtually overnight, wants and needs changed. People longed for more space, larger lots, pools, gyms, a second office, and many clients wanted to be closer to their extended families. This, coupled with historically low interest rates, created a frenzy of demand. Even now as rates tick up, we still have a lack of inventory, which will keep the real estate market active regardless of rates.”

Describing Atlanta as “a wonderland of investment opportunities,” Gaines says, “The influx of corporations and businesses entering Atlanta, along with our airport, which flies to 80 percent of the country in two hours or less, certainly strengthens the local real estate market. Atlanta is also a film production hub, which offers opportunities for investors seeking to buy and rent to the film industry, or to film industry workers seeking a second (or third, or fourth) home in Atlanta. Comparatively speaking, Atlanta home prices are significantly lower than other major cities.”

On the Market

External view of grand property with four white pillars set in a large green garden
This Atlanta family home, built in 1990, has five bedrooms, five full baths, and two half baths. It boasts 9,268 square feet (861 sq m) of interior space. There’s also a media room, a large gym, a three-car garage, and a large mudroom.

This statuesque Neoclassical brick estate, situated on over an acre (0.4 ha) of lush grounds in the heart of Druid Hills, is simply extraordinary. The impressive porch leads to an expansive, inviting foyer featuring classic dentil moulding and 10-foot-high (3 m) ceilings The interior is recently renovated and includes a large dining area with marble fireplace, a kitchen with a large island, and bedrooms with en suites and walk-in closets. There’s a separate dedicated guest suite including kitchenette, living room, and full bath.

Sociable Savannah, Georgia

Beautiful Savannah is also popular with buyers. “We have everything except for the mountains,” says Staci Donegan, associate broker, Seabolt Real Estate | Christie’s International Real Estate. The area has always been popular, but the pandemic accelerated the number of people wanting to move for more space.

People appreciate Savannah’s green spaces, walkability, and the temperate climate. “Buyers are attracted to the quality of life in Savannah, with world-class dining, shopping, and stunning natural beauty. Popular restaurants like The Olde Pink House, The Grey, and Collins Quarter, plus luxury hotels like the Perry Lane Hotel and JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District are attracting national attention,” says Donegan.

A row of terraced historic homes in Savannah
The streets of Savannah are lined with historical homes that date to the 18th century, when James Edward Oglethorpe planned the city using a network of repeating squares and residential blocks. His legacy remains today. Credit: Getty Images

The city, planned by General James Edward Oglethorpe in the 18th century, still features a network of squares and trust lots, which appeals to 21st-century residents. “Your square is the center of your neighborhood,” Donegan explains, “Each square will have a set weekly or biweekly night when people meet for cocktails and conversation. Or there may be an early morning dog-walking group to join. Savannah is a very sociable place,” she says.

A pedestrian and bike-friendly mecca, Savannah is defined by its diverse neighborhoods from the islands to Pooler, and from the National Historic Landmark District to Richmond Hill—each of which has its own unique appeal, style, and personality. Plus, the beaches of Tybee Island are just a stone’s throw away.

Named after Georgia’s 33rd governor, Forsyth Park covers 30-acres (12 ha) and features playgrounds, an event and concert space, basketball and tennis courts, and a weekly farmer’s market. Credit: Getty Images

Today the biggest challenge for the prospective buyer is the lack of property on the real estate market. “Back in 2010, when we were still recovering from the market crash, Savannah had 22 months of inventory,” Donegan says. “Today we have just 1.7 months­—a balanced market sits at around 4-6 months of inventory.”

The rise in interest rates and inflation is having a small impact, as available property has increased slightly. “The rest of 2022 will remain strong even against these economic drivers,” she says, noting that the luxury market is always less reliant on interest rates than other sectors.

On the Market

External view of historic home with stairs up to front door and shutters on windows
This historical Savannah villa features five bedrooms, five full baths, and one half bath. It has 5,069 square feet (471 sq m) of interior space and a lot of 0.8 acres (0.3 ha).

This historical home, which dates to around 1852, beautifully marries modernity and antiquity. Following a four-year restoration, which began in 2005, the property was awarded The American Institute of Architects AIA Honor Award. The parlour level features a gourmet kitchen designed with entertaining in mind—the space has three ovens, two sinks, and vast counters. The primary suite includes a sitting area, views over the urban landscape, and an Italian marble bath, which opens on to a private balcony overlooking the courtyard garden.

Banner image: A colorful terrace of houses in Charleston, Georgia. Credit: Getty Images