Coastal Carolina's Million Dollar Home Boom

There was a time, not that long ago, when the thought of a home in Myrtle Beach costing over a million dollars was unthinkable. Unlike the coastal communities of Charleston and Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach has long been a favorite destination of working class families — not exactly a beacon for people who have paid a lot of money not to have their ocean view obstructed by a sunburned family of six. The luxury home market in Myrtle Beach, and the entire Carolina coast for that matter, has exploded over the last few years, and it does not look like it is going to slow down any time soon.

The market took off in the mid ’90s, and has grown substantially. It is amazing how much the market for million dollar homes has increased, just over the last two years.

One of the best things about the Carolina coast — besides the beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches, and rich history and culture — is the diversity between the numerous communities we cover here at Carolina Homes & Interiors. From the historic districts of Charleston, the ultra-exclusive island resort communities of Kiawah and Bald Head Island, to the sleepy fishing villages that dot the coastline, every community has its own — how do you say — je ne sais quoi. For a long time, the Myrtle Beach vibe was not one of a luxury home haven. But how things have changed. Million dollar listings are now as common on the Grand Strand as sunburns.

Despite Myrtle Beach’s entrance in the million dollar home race, the most expensive home in South Carolina in 2004, listed for a cool $6.9 million, was sold on Hilton Head Island.

As the phenomenon of the million-dollar-plus home becomes more common, there have been a few adjustments that have been made to accommodate the newest and wealthiest members of these communities. Slowly, and relatively obscurely, these new million-dollar homeowners are changing the culture and economy of many of these seaside communities. The kitschy little shops that sold t-shirts and painted shells to tourists are slowly being replaced by high-end retail stores, spas, and other exclusive services that, not all that long ago, would not have had a market in those locations.

In some areas, developers have created specific million dollar communities within communities. It is these communities that have seen the most growth as of late, and, in places like Myrtle Beach, have proven themselves to be a monumental success.

It was Hilton Head Island where the luxury home community first came to be commonplace. The granddaddy of resort developments is Sea Pines, which had five of the top ten most expensive homes sold on Hilton Head Island over the last two years within its gates.

In Charleston, the million dollar home market is vastly different from the newly developed Hilton Head Island. The homes that fetch the highest prices in these areas are the beautifully preserved historical homes, some of which predate the writing of the Constitution, scattered throughout the historical districts of these communities. Seven of the top ten homes sold in Charleston in the last two years were located south of Broad Street, which has been Charleston’s most exclusive neighborhood for the last 300 years.

Even the port town of Wilmington has recently seen a huge jump in million dollar listings, with over 100 homes selling over the last two years for over $1 million. “The number of $1 million-plus homes available in the Wilmington market area has increased substantially over the past five years,” says a long-established area real estate firm. Currently almost 100 residential properties are on the market at or over $1 million. I think this is a reflection of the general appreciation of our market and an indication of the growing level of sophistication in the marketplace. This also reflects the type of buyers who are choosing to call our very appealing area home. That is why many are proud to say that they were born and raised locally. More and more people are discovering what they have known all along.

But where this phenomenon has had the largest impact has been in the Grand Strand. The most active area stretches from Pawleys Island north to Murrells Inlet, known by locals as the “South Strand” or the “Waccamaw Neck” area. Six of the top ten most expensive homes sold over the last two years are found in this area. Even the once unassuming beach town of Garden City, just northeast of Murrells Inlet, offers luxury homebuyers a wide range of housing options that now sell for over $1 million.

In fact, the million dollar home market in Myrtle Beach has grown so strong that developers can build million dollar homes on speculation, with complete confidence a buyer will be found before construction has been completed. Many say that even if it doesn’t sell right away, it is not really a problem because the luxury vacation rental market is so strong.

Further north up the Strand is Grand Dunes. Some say this upscale development has single-handedly changed the way Myrtle Beach markets real estate, elevating its position in the area as one of the premier million dollar home markets on the Strand.

Even some of the older portions of Myrtle Beach have become markets for million dollar homes, simply out of the demand for oceanfront property. On the stretch of Ocean Boulevard commonly refereed to by locals as “The Golden Mile,” stretching from 38th Avenue to 82nd Avenue, this beachfront area is the location of several homes on the market, most selling for over $1 million, and was the location of a $4.75 million sale. Henry Reynolds of Coldwell Banker Chicora Real Estate made that sale, and coincidently, sold the first home in the area for over $1 million over a decade ago.

In Myrtle Beach, a lot of people desiring a high-end beachfront home are buying property with a home on it, either moving or demolishing the existing home, and starting fresh. People are buying homes built in the ’50s and ’60s and putting something new in their place.

The biggest reason for the boom in the Grand Strand has been the ability of the many municipalities that govern the area to anticipate growth and have it planned for well ahead of the developers. Many new infrastructure projects have already been wrapped up or are in the final stages of completing, including the John Gresham Parkway, designed to ferry thousands of motorists through the area without the lengthy traffic delays that were common during the summer months, and the $185 million expansion of the Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is expected to generate all new records for air traffic into the area, further expanding the market for million dollar homes.

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