In the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 2015, Steve Kelley called his elderly mother, Dot, to tell her she shouldn’t plan to go to church that morning because of the heavy rain.
But the storms that weekend – described by some as a once-in-a-thousand-year event – did more than keep his mother, 87 at the time, from worship. She told her son the water was already up to her top step and was about to come into the house.
Later, Dot Kelley – perched on top of her kitchen table – was rescued from the top of her kitchen table by Steve Kelley’s brother-in-law, Jerry Hall, and John Bradshaw.
The house at 9231 Burwell Lane, which had been in the family’s home since 1952, was severely damaged, as were its contents. Dot Kelley, who now lives in an apartment, had no flood insurance.
“All of our memories were gone, all the antiques, all the family pictures,” Steve Kelley said. “My mother had collected things for years and years and years. It was devastating.”
The following February, the Kelley family sold the house at the rock bottom price of $115,000. Two years later, after about $93,000 in renovations by the local builder who purchased it, the house sold for $355,000.
It’s a common story at Lake Katherine, where many homes damaged by the floods were sold at fire sale prices, gutted or razed, then replaced by much higher-priced properties. That has helped send area property values skyrocketing.
The median sales price of a house at Lake Katherine before the flood was $235,000, according a study of the Multiple Listing Service by The Moore Co. real estate firm. The median price dropped to $180,000 in the six months after the flood, a figure that includes homes not damaged by water.
Today it is $347,000, with homes staying on the market for less than three months. The higher prices are fueled by the renovated homes along with an improved economy, the limited number of homes for sale and a trend toward in-town living.
“Lake Katherine was one of the premier in-town communities in Columbia and had gorgeous houses before the flood,” said Al Floyd, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. “But a lot of them dated back to the 1960s. As terrible as the event was, the area looks even better now. It was a forced revitalization.”
‘It’s very complicated’
Stan Fish is the builder who bought and renovated the former Kelley home. He has renovated and sold two houses in the area and is renovating two more. He has a fifth house about to go on the market.
He doesn’t like the popular term “flipped house” because, he said, he doesn’t make superficial changes. He guts the homes to the shell and starts over.
“They all have to be brought up to city code and it’s very complicated,” he said. “I replace everything, every inch of electrical wiring, everything.”
Fish renovated three homes without razing them because they were more than 2 feet above the flood line, as required by the city. The other two properties are above the flood line, but below 2 feet, so the city allows renovations up to 49.9 percent of the value of the home prior to the flood.
Since the flood, 76 homes have been sold at Lake Katherine, including a dozen that were flooded, according to The Moore Co. Many others were repaired or razed and rebuilt by the homeowners.
“All the new construction is bringing values up,” said The Moore Company owner Graeme Moore. “But all of a sudden, you have a couple of half-million-dollar, multi-story homes across the street from a $300,000 ranch.”
It’s come back huge
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Because of the 2-foot requirement, many homes are being built on stilts, some 8 to 10 feet off the ground, so the first “floor” can be used for storage or as a garage. Some resemble beach houses on Sullivan’s Island. Others look like Mediterranean villas.
It’s a strange departure from the mostly 1960s brick ranch houses that were the norm before the flood.
“The neighborhood is just not the same,” Kelley said. “It’s a jumbled mess.”
However, if property values continue to rise, there aren’t many people who will complain, said Latan Cox, who has lived in a brick ranch on Quail Lane for 21 years and has two new, two-story homes directly across the street. They have been raised above the flood line.
“The neighborhood has come back huge,” she said. The new homes “add value to the neighborhood. And it’s good to have something new and different.”
Katey and Kyle Bailey, who purchased the Kelley home on Burwell Lane, moved there for the same reason people have for decades.
“It’s a good neighborhood with good schools,” said Katey Bailey, whose husband is an assistant tennis coach at the University of South Carolina. “And with all the building that is going on, property values are going up.”
But isn’t she afraid the house might flood again?
“Nope,” she said. “It was a thousand-year flood. … And I have flood insurance. We just crossed our fingers.”
Lake Katherine median sales
September 2014 to September 2015
October 2015 to March 2016
March 2016 to March 2017