Oceanfront land values drop behind Debordieu seawall

sfretwell@thestate.comMay 23, 2014 

Properties behind the seawall at Debordieu Beach have dropped in value. Some in the resort want state permission to rebuild the wall in an attempt to better protect their homes.

THE STATE — FILE PHOTOGRAPH Buy Photo

High-end beach homes long coveted for their proximity to the ocean have dropped in value in an upscale resort community with a wave-battered seawall and an eroding beach near Georgetown.

About two dozen houses behind the seawall at Debordieu Beach were valued at $46 million five years ago, but their worth had dropped to $34 million by 2013, according to property records reviewed by The State newspaper.

Many factors likely contributed to lower real estate values, including the recent recession. But the effects of shoreline erosion can’t be ignored for houses that shake when waves hit the seawall, real estate experts acknowledge.

One house on the seawall’s lower section was worth $2.1 million five years ago but had dropped in value to $784,800 by last year, property records show.

Another home nearby was worth $2.2 million in 2009, but had dropped in value to $726,400 by 2013. The house sold for $625,000 earlier this year, according to the Georgetown County Assessor’s Office.

Camden resident Lanning Risher said he sold the house in part because of issues with the seawall. A Sumter limited partnership bought the 3,171-square-foot, two-story house, records show.

“The waves hit the seawall, and water splashes over it and that erodes the sand behind the seawall,” Risher said. “Yes, that certainly was a factor in my selling, no question about that.”

Risher said he built the house three decades ago when the beach was wide and erosion was not a concern at Debordieu. He was among property owners who paid to construct the seawall as the beach began to narrow.

“To be candid, if there had not been the matter of the seawall there, and the expense and the trouble of keeping that up, I probably would have just gone ahead and kept (the house) and let my kids sell it later on after I was gone,” he said.

Debordieu’s battle with the sea has been a topic of statewide discussion recently. Property owners at Debordieu’s lower end are asking the state Legislature to let them rebuild the 4,000-foot seawall, arguing that their homes are in jeopardy from waves that crash into the 33-year-old structure each day. A stronger seawall not only would protect homes but presumably would help stabilize land values behind it.

But the issue has caused a stir because seawalls worsen beach erosion when hit by waves. The ocean could erode the beach even further at Debordieu if a new wall is built 2 feet farther onto the shore – and changing the law would undermine a quarter-century-old ban against new seawalls in South Carolina, critics say.

Despite criticism, the state Senate has shown sympathy for Debordieu, approving three separate legislative measures in an attempt to allow a new seawall. Debordieu is a gated community with about 1,200 homes, located between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach.

Walter McElveen, a Pawleys Island real estate agent, said decreases in land values at some spots on Debordieu appear to be more pronounced than for other seaside homes along the southern Grand Strand. While oceanfront land values suffered during the recent recession along much of the coast, many dropped no more than 30 to 40 percent, he said.

Some lower values at Debordieu easily top that, records show. Drops in value from more than $2 million to under $800,000 are notable, McElveen said.

“Those certainly sound like they had to do with a specific area or problem,” McElveen said, noting that an “eroding beach affects the whole area, not just first row, but second row. The attraction is a healthy beach.”

Tim Holt, deputy assessor for Georgetown County, said many factors can contribute to lower home and land values, but he agreed that beach erosion can make a difference. While he was visiting one house behind the Debordieu seawall, Holt said a chandelier shook as the ocean hit the bulkhead.

“If you found a piece of land that was further off the ocean but still oceanfront, you’d prefer to have that,” Holt said. “You wouldn’t want to buy a house that is sitting 50 feet off the seawall that is being pounded day and night.”

Houses behind the seawall at Debordieu have experienced a range of drops in value. Some have gone down slightly, which would reflect general real estate trends. But others are down substantially. The State newspaper found only one home among more than 20 with a value higher in 2013 than in 2009. That house is at the extreme upper end of the seawall.

Holt said some of the lower values at Debordieu result from appeals from property owners. At least a half dozen of the houses and lots behind the wall had values go down because of appeals, according to Holt and county property records. Lower land values mean lower real estate taxes. Holt said beach erosion was a reason cited by at least one landowner who filed an appeal.

“It was stating an appraisal value of the home, and it was citing the lack of beach and I guess the rejection of the beach renourishment,” Holt said.

Beach erosion is a recurring problem at Debordieu’s southern end. In 2011, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control approved groins that run into the ocean to trap sand, but property owners couldn’t agree on how to pay for the project and an accompanying beach renourishment project. They recently agreed to beach renourishment without the groins.

Reach Fretwell at (803) 771-8537.

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