Strand’s million-dollar home market in a revival

02/22/2014 11:15 PM

02/22/2014 11:16 PM

The last six years haven’t been kind to those along the Grand Strand who own, sell and build million-dollar homes, but two area Realtors and a builder who specialize in high-end real estate say the market is improving.

Homes priced at $1 million and above lost 50 percent of their value when the housing bubble popped, said Traci Miles of Century 21 Boling and Associates, and sales and construction of high-end homes almost disappeared from Horry County for a couple of years.

According to figures of $1 million-plus homes sales in Georgetown County compiled by Lou Lachicotte of The Lachicotte Co., just eight of the 169 sold since 2007 were for the asking price. Another nine got more than the list price, leaving 151 that lost money, as much as $2.1 million. Every million-dollar plus sale in 2010 was for below the asking price and just one in 2011, which sold for the asking price, escaped the guillotine.

And the most any made was $300,000 for one sold in 2007. Profits on million-dollar homes dipped to a low of $5,000 in a 2012 sale, and it wasn’t until last year that a sale for $275,000 above asking even approached 2007’s high.

But all was not misery for high-end sellers. While foreclosures and short sales swamped the market for less expensive homes, only two of those in Georgetown County were foreclosures.

SiteTech Systems reported recently that high-end home sales activity in Horry and Georgetown counties improved 31 percent in 2013, making it the best year for million-dollar home sales since 2008. Georgetown County has a more vigorous million-dollar home market than Horry, and high-end sales made up 71 percent of all home sales there in 2013.

The million-dollar market remains tilted in favor of buyers, according to the report. The negative sales prices in Georgetown County are evidence of that, but as SiteTech points out, there are still 199 million-dollar homes for sale, a four-year inventory.

The SiteTech million-dollar listings show what is on the area’s Multiple Listing Service, but not all high-end homes now for sale in Horry and Georgetown counties are included.

For instance, a former rice plantation in Georgetown County is currently on the market for $15 million, but it is listed exclusively with Sotheby’s, which along with Christie’s International Real Estate specializes in brokering the most expensive homes worldwide.

“Some people are very flashy with their money,” said Lachicotte, whose company is the area’s exclusive Christie’s agency, “but a lot of the people we deal with are not.”

They want to live out of the public’s eye, and a listing exclusively with Sotheby’s or Christie’s can help them do it.

Lachicotte and Miles said their high-end customers are a mix of locals and out-of-towners. Physicians weigh heavily in the make-up of local million-dollar buyers, but business owners and corporate executives also get a significant share of the mix.

Lachicotte said she’s seeing out-of-towners from Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Knoxville, Tenn., looking over the area’s high-end real estate. Miles said she has retirees from the Northeast as customers.

They want homes that are unique and spacious with security, elevators and nicely equipped kitchens on a waterfront, Lachicotte said.

Miles said the high-end buyer tends to be savvy about real estate, as well, and has done the homework on comparables and know what they should be paying for their homes.

A notable number pay in cash.

High-end home sales in Georgetown County didn’t dry up during the recession as completely as they did in Horry County, and Miles said it’s just in the last four months that the million-dollar home sales market in Horry County has begun to stir again.

But it’s not just Realtors who are reaping the rewards of the reawakened activity.

Preston Guyton, president of CRG Construction, said his company now is building its 18th million-dollar-plus home since it was founded in 2009. The first the company built was in 2010 and the momentum has built since then from Pawleys Island to the Dunes Club. The company now is building three oceanfront homes in the Dunes Club where a lot will cost more than $1 million and the homes between $1.5 million and $3 million to build.

Guyton said that like those who buy existing high-end real estate, many who build from scratch pay in cash. They also are not averse to buying an older oceanfront home, tearing it down and building their dream from the ground up.

He said his company built one high-end home with a $16,000 pizza oven, another with a $5,000 antique front door and another with a 75-foot lap pool. One had a mural painted on its glass elevator that at the bottom was a marsh scene and then graduated to ocean and finally sky as the elevator rose.

“You do a lot of interesting stuff,” he said.

Many of the homes are second homes that may eventually become permanent residences, and perhaps surprisingly, most don’t include home theaters.

“We’ve only done two home theaters,” he said. “It’s not a request so much anymore. They’ll spend more on their outdoor areas.”

Guyton said the Grand Strand has become more attractive to high-end buyers because the perception of the area has evolved from its Redneck Riviera reputation to that of a well-kept secret, and because you can build on the oceanfront here for half what it would cost in Charleston or Hilton Head.

And, he said, “They’ve always wanted to build in this area.”

Miles said the area as a whole benefits from high-end buyers and builders in a number of ways. For one thing, she said, high-end homes will employ more people to build it for a longer time than would a $200,000 home.

Then when the new, affluent residents move in, they stimulate new businesses and employment because of how they want to spend their money and the amount of customer service they expect when doing it.

“They up the bar [for the whole area],” Miles said. “Myrtle Beach takes on a different face.”

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