Beaufort News

New Lady's Island developments highlight steady real estate growth

A home under construction at Palmetto Place, a new development under construction on Lady's Island.
A home under construction at Palmetto Place, a new development under construction on Lady's Island.

When Gunnery Sgt. Flavio Vera moved to Beaufort last July with his wife and three children, his living space went from 2,600 square feet to 1,200 square feet.

Quarters are too cramped for his family of five.

"We want to get back to the space we were used to," he said.

The Marine and his family currently reside in local base housing. After looking throughout Beaufort County for a home within their budget, it seemed at first the only affordable option was to purchase a fixer-upper.

But after meeting with Benji Gecy of River City Developers, Vera found there were options in new construction that were within his budget.

He ultimately landed on a home in Gecy's new Lady's Island development, Palmetto Place, one of several new communities planned or under construction on the island.

Vera hopes to move his family into his new 2,000-square-foot home by Christmas.

Over the past year, new home sales on Lady's Island increased to about 12 percent of all total new home sales in the surrounding area -- an increase of about 3 percent from the year prior, the greatest change in northern Beaufort County -- according to data from the Beaufort County Association of Realtors.

"Going back to the early '90s, Lady's Island was the hotspot in the county," said Everett Ballenger, owner and broker-in-charge at Ballenger Realty.

That changed in 2008, coinciding with the economic downturn.

But now, he said, it's picking back up at a "steady" rate, particularly over the past three years.

"There's still a lot of room for growth here," he added.

Ballenger pointed to the local establishment of national homebuilder D.R. Horton on Lady's Island as evidence that the area has gained significant real estate interest.

"They have the ability to kickstart developments," he said.

Another key factor driving interest to Lady's Island is the local schools.

"(Lady's Island) schools have the capacity to take on more students, and homes on the market are ones that people with children can afford," said Jim Hicks, chairman of the Lady's Island Community Preservation Committee. "There's no question building is returning."

Ballenger echoed that sentiment, adding that the schools, as well as the island's proximity to downtown Beaufort, are driving interest in the area.

When homes hit the $300,000 mark, Hicks said, fewer families move in. Ballenger estimated the average price of a new home on Lady's Island is around $220,000 to $230,000.

And while some new communities, such as Whitehall Plantation, have a higher price tag, other planned neighborhoods target families with a smaller budget, such as Vera's.

That variety of home prices is a positive thing for the area, Ballenger said.

But it was Gecy's goal in developing Palmetto Place to offer homes at a moderate price point. The community has 79 lots with two-, three- and four-bedroom homes priced between low and upper $200,000. Floor plans are between 1,400 and 2,500 square feet.

Gecy said there is a significant demand for homes in that range. Additionally, he wanted to incorporate pedestrian-friendly design, as outlined in the Beaufort Civic Master Plan for the Lady's Island Village Center district, in his new community.

"We are trying to create outdoor spaces and a walkable feel," Gecy said. The Palmetto Place homes include double porches and there is a network of sidewalks throughout the community.

Hicks said many Lady's Island developments approved several years ago during the housing boom never took off because of the recession, but are now being bought and developed.

In addition to residential real estate, commercial interest on the island has picked up, with grocer Harris Teeter proposing a new store at the site of the old Publix on Sea Island Parkway. The planned Walmart Super Center near the Beaufort County airport helped initiate that interest.

"We're starting to see the Walmart effect," Hicks said. "They're not here yet, but other national franchises are looking" in the area as a result.

Ballenger agreed that commercial development is another key factor in measuring interest in a particular market.

"It all points to sustained growth," he said.

Follow reporter Ashley Fahey at twitter.com/IPBG_Ashley.

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