As a real estate agent who moved down from New York to the Charleston area myself, I get a lot of questions about life down South. Here’s a look at the Top 10 things you should know when considering relocating from the Northeast to Charleston, SC.
Cost of Living is Lower
One of the most attractive aspects of moving down South is how much further your dollar goes compared to metropolitan areas in the Northeast.
Using this cost of living calculator, you can easily see how the cost of living varies. For instance, the cost of living in the Charleston-North Charleston area is 31.20% lower than in Washington, DC. A salary of $100,000 there is like $68,800 here. The difference between Manhattan and the Charleston area is even higher; with cost of living 55.58% lower here, you need only $44,400 in Charleston to maintain the same standard of living as $100,000 in Manhattan.
The Cost Per Square Foot Is Lower
According to Redfin, the average price per square foot for properties sold in Mount Pleasant, SC is $214; in North Charleston, $132; and in Charleston, $199. Compare this to the price per square foot in Washington, DC at $478; Jersey City at $497, Boston at $633, and Manhattan at $900.
In short, lower cost per square foot means you’ll get more home for your dollar in the Charleston area.
Property Taxes Are Lower
According to SmartAsset, Charleston County’s effective property tax rate 0.48%, Berkeley County’s is 0.54%, and Dorchester County’s 0.72%.
In comparison, many counties in the Northeast have effective property tax rates 2-5x that of Charleston County. For example, New York County (where New York City is) has an effective tax rate of 0.90%, over twice Charleston County’s. And that’s the lowest in New York State. Many nearby counties in NY and NJ have significantly higher rates, over 2.0%.
Though it may seem small, a percentage point or two higher can mean thousands of dollars more in property taxes coming out of your pocket every year.
The Weather: Hot Summers, Mild Winters
It’s true, South Carolina summers are hot! The temperatures in July range from an average low of 74º F to a high of 92º F, with humidity in the high 70s. This is certainly a deterrent to those who don’t like heat and humidity.
The trade-off, however, is milder winters, a big draw for people wanting to escape brutal Northern cold. In December, Charleston’s average low is 44º F but the average high is 60º F, and it’s not unusual for temperatures to go even higher for a stretch. You could very well find yourself wearing shorts on Christmas day and hitting the swimming pool on the first of March. Plus, Southerners know how to keep cool, whether it’s enjoying the shade of a Spanish moss-draped live oak, sipping on a sweet tea, or simply taking refuge in the AC. When you’re here long enough, you’ll figure out how to beat the heat.
Hurricanes Are a Reality
Hurricanes are a concern for South Carolina residents, especially those near the coast. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from the beginning of June through November, with the most active period often occurring in September and early October.
However, hurricanes are distinct from other natural disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes in one important way – we know they are coming days in advance. The governor coordinates shelters, requests federal emergency funding, and makes the call on whether to evacuate the area if landfall looks imminent. This means residents have time to secure their property and travel to an area safely out of the hurricane’s path. While hurricanes can cause extensive damage, loss of life and property is certainly mitigated by having advanced warning.
Charleston is in a region known as the Lowcountry, and it’s not just a charming name, but an apt description. Much of this coastal land was underwater thousands of years ago, and many parts are still below sea level. That’s what makes this area so vulnerable to flooding.
Likelihood of flooding varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Whether your home is likely to flood depends on which flood zone it’s in, which is classified by FEMA. The flood zone also helps determine flood insurance rates. Your lender will likely want you to carry flood insurance (and you’ll want it, too, to protect your home’s structure and contents), as damage from flooding is not covered by a regular homeowners insurance policy. Given the many cost advantages that Charleston offers, many people find flood insurance for homes not directly on the beach to be surprisingly cheap.
Charleston Area School Systems
Parents will find a mix of good choices of private and public schools in the area. In fact, Academic Magnet High School located in North Charleston is one of the best schools in the country, ranked #2 by the US News and World Report. Bishop England, a private Catholic high school on Daniel Island, also has an excellent reputation. As in many other places, exactly where you live is important when it comes to access to public schools, so do your research if that’s important to you.
As people move here and the tax basis increases, more resources are available to pour into the public school system. Parents should keep this in mind when looking for a home.
Charleston’s Economy Is Strong
Despite the recent economic impact of COVID-19, which has affected Charleston as it has the rest of the country, the economy here is strong.
There’s no doubt that Charleston’s population has grown substantially in the last few decades. The Charleston-North Charleston metropolitan statistical area grew by over 130,000 people between 2010-2019 – a 20% increase.
Charleston’s economy has both fueled and been fueled by this growth. The Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) reports low unemployment and a good diversity of industries contributing to the economy. Manufacturing is strong with Boeing and Volvo plants nearby, the tech sector is growing, hospitality and tourism bring in billions every year, and the healthcare sector is one of the largest employers in the area. Charleston also holds a geographic advantage as the fourth busiest port in the country for container shipping, employing tens of thousands of people and contributing to a multi-billion-dollar impact in the region.
In short, the Charleston area is economically stable with excellent prospects for the future.
People who grew up here complain that the traffic is terrible and is only getting worse, while people relocating from larger cities with bad traffic like New York and Washington, DC, will find Charleston traffic a pleasant change of pace.
Though congestion has increased as more people have moved to the area, public and private initiatives aim to address it. These include extending I-526 to Johns Island, a ferry from Daniel Island to the peninsula, and improving the Highway 17 corridor, to name a few.
Despite the increase in traffic, Charleston remains an easy city to navigate and park in, especially when compared to big cities up North.
City Growth and Lifestyle
Has all this growth negatively affected Charleston? Some people considering a move to Charleston are concerned that changes are eroding the charm.
The good news is that investment in infrastructure is increasing to handle the growth, and Charleston and Mount Pleasant are taking steps to protect what makes these cities special. For instance, the Charleston City Council has height restrictions for buildings on the peninsula, in order to maintain the low skyline (from which Charleston gets its nickname “the Holy City,” as the church spires are visible) and passed an ordinance in October to limit hotel growth. Mount Pleasant similarly passed an ordinance in 2019 to limit the town’s growth.
While growth inevitably leads to changes, Charleston area residents are intent on keeping tourism sustainable while maintaining a high quality of life. This is still a place where people say hello to strangers on the street and the pace of life is more relaxed compared to up North. That hasn’t changed.
Ready to Relocate?
Consider me your relocation specialist. Having relocated here myself, I can give you the straight talk on how life is different (read: better!) in Charleston and help you find your dream home.
Get in touch if you’re ready to start looking at properties or simply have a few questions about buying or selling in the Charleston, SC area. Call me at 843-806-7222 or email me here. I look forward to hearing from you.