Ah, Kiawah: New developments, strong demand and a focus on conservation

By Brigitte Surette  |  August 21, 2021

Homes on Kiawah Island are in such demand now that Realtors are trying to locate properties to sell before they hit the market. Though the area has always had a paradise-like atmosphere since its development as a world-renowned luxury spot in the 70s, it’s even more so now. New developments, private island offerings and ongoing efforts of conservation have made Kiawah a highly sought-after place to call home sweet luxurious home. Main and second-home luxury buyers from all over the globe want a piece of the paradise. With a brand-new active life plan community undergoing development within moments of Kiawah Island and state-of-the art medical facilities being constructed, Kiawah Island offers the best of many worlds for all types of buyers.

It started with a cottage

Pam Harrington moved to the Lowcountry in 1976. A cottage rental on Kiawah and a favor to a friend blossomed into a very successful real estate company a year later.

Harrington had worked as an ICU nurse, teaching advanced nursing and being head of an eight-bed ICU unit prior to moving to the area. In 1977, she began Roper’s Nursing internship program. That same year she and a good friend had a conversation about Kiawah Island.

“He [friend] had purchased a cottage at Kiawah and he was moving back to Europe,” said Harrington. “He asked me if I would rent and maintain it for him. I agreed but knew nothing about property management.”

Despite that, her “little side business” grew from one cottage to 16 of them over a year and a half. Focusing solely on the property management aspect of the business for the first five years, she founded Pam Harrington Exclusives in 1978 and left nursing the following year.

“As the number of rentals increased, more clients asked me for help in buying homes,” she recalled. “That started my selling career at Kiawah Island and it’s been my specialty and love for all these years. I transformed my love for helping people from nursing into this business.”

Harrington said she has seen significant changes over the past 40 plus years she’s lived on the island, but never anything like the current market. Citing the only thing close to it as the period between 2005 to 2008, she said the demand for property now on Kiawah is big and broad. But the hiccup like all markets here is certainly not for lack of want, it’s lack of housing.

5 reasons to live on Kiawah

  1. Safe, back to nature environment
  2. Ten miles of flat, bikeable, undisturbed beach
  3. Diverse owners from all walks of life
  4. Several free-flowing charities, addressing the needs of groups in all of Charleston
  5. Welcoming/accepting – be social or not

Source: Pam Harrington, Harrington Exclusives

“Whether it’s lots, villas or homes, there is very little inventory,” said Harrington. “As the uptick of rentals began in the early stages of the pandemic, folks were looking to get out of the city, and many ended up lengthening their stay to several months. Ultimately, many of them fell in love with everything Kiawah offers and wanted to purchase a permanent stake of their own.”

Harrington lives in the picturesque neighborhood of Cassique on Kiawah, building a home there over two years ago. The golf community has English countryside designed homes and close proximity to The Kiawah Island Club. One can walk to Voysey’s restaurant, a Tom Colicchio-inspired menu of fine dining.

A staunch supporter and advocate of Kiawah Conservancy, Harrington said her company said they have donated “many dollars to the cause,” and she recently did so herself about a week ago.

The Kiawah Conservancy is a non-profit organization established by residents in 1997. Its mission is to preserve the natural habitat of the island. According to its website, the organization has preserved 52 properties that total over 2,273 acres of barrier island habitat. In 2017, the Conservancy achieved Land Trust Accreditation, joining a network of only 372 land trusts across the country.

“I purchased a building lot adjacent to my home and immediately donated it to the conservancy,” Harrington stated. “Establishing a green space for wildlife is so important and a great part of what our island stands for.”

Harrington said that most of their buyers are from all over the country and beyond, with the majority looking for a second or third home to be “back to nature.” Prices are escalating because of the demand and 50 percent of her listings are under contract.

“I have two homes, similarly priced, but completely different.”

One of them is at 595 Piping Plover, a five bedroom on a cul de sac, within walking and biking distance to the beach and vista views of Osprey Point golf course. The other at 230 Glen Abbey overlooks the fourth hole of Turtle Point Golf Course. Both lists for over $2.3 million.

“Each are turnkey, an ideal investment and they’re furnished, with strong rental histories,” she said. “They equally well-suited as a second home or permanent residence.”

Condos coming soon

Fourteen acres along the oceanfront on Kiawah Island’s West Beach will be the home for The Cape, a collection of luxury life plan community. Focused on sustainability and preservation, and pursuing LEED Gold Certification, East West Partners are the developers of the project. As the Post and Courier reported in July, 38 of the 40 luxury homes are already sold in Phase I. In partnership with Kiawah Island Real Estate (KIRE) 35 of the 40 units sold on opening day. Completion of Phase 1 is slated for Summer 2023.

KIRE’s Patrick Brumfield sold the premier penthouse condo for $8 million. The residence will be in Phase 1’s building six and will have four bedrooms, four and half baths, and of course, breathtaking views.

“The Cape offers the opportunity to enjoy Kiawah’s pristine landscapes and waterways from sunrise to sunset,” said Brumfield.

Phase 2, already under construction, will have 38 residences for a total of 78 homes across six buildings. Homes range from 1,590 to 3,735 square feet and prices begin at $1.8 million. The homes will include large windows, private terraces and wrap-around porches. An infinity pool, fitness center and sun deck will be built during Phase 1 for residents and for members of the Kiawah Island Club.

The residences inside the life plan community will be designed by Cortney Bishop, a Charleston designer who has designed both residential and commercial projects such as The Ryder Hotel, The Longboard in the Virgin Islands and Sullivan’s Island, The Gadsden and the The Kingstide in Daniel Island.

Medical facilities by 2023

“After seven years of working side by side with MUSC to bring this important project to fruition, we could not be prouder to donate the six acres of land needed for the development and to continue our partnership with the MUSC team,” said Chris Randolph, Kiawah Partners. “This new facility will bring vitally important world-class medical care to Kiawah, Seabrook and the Sea Islands residents, which will only add to the exceptional experience that comes with living here.”

The project is made possible by a commitment from Kiawah Partners, a subsidiary of South Street Partners, the owner of the residential development of Kiawah Island which includes Kiawah Island Real Estate and Kiawah Island Club. A donation of six acres of land to the Medical University Hospital Authority (MUSC Health) will enable a free-standing emergency department (ED) and medical office to serve Johns, Kiawah and Seabrook Island residents.

The 22,740 square-foot facility will be at 1884 Seabook Island Road, near Bohicket Marina. The ED will have four exam rooms, two trauma rooms, imaging and lab services and a rooftop helicopter pad. The medical office will offer primary and specialty care, and a telemedicine network will connect the facility to MUSC Health in downtown Charleston.

“People living in this area have to travel 30 or 45 minutes to reach the nearest hospital, sometimes more depending on traffic. That’s a big problem for someone having a stroke or cardiac event,” said Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., MUSC Health CEO and vice president for Health Affairs, University. “This new facility brings that care directly into the community. We’re extremely grateful to Kiawah Partners for helping to make that possible.”

The project is estimated to cost $24 million. MUSC is working to raise $15 million in private support. McMillan Pazdan Smith will design the project and construction is expected to begin in early 2022 and completed by fall 2023.

Sales, sales and more sales

“Our soaring sales quarter-after-quarter only solidify our belief that desire to be a part of this exceptional life plan community is much more enduring than a cyclical real estate trend,” said Dan Whalen, President, Kiawah Island Real Estate.

Despite the fact that year-end inventory was the lowest on record Whalen said, momentum hasn’t slowed this year. Kiawah Island recorded its best first half ever with $466 million in closed sales across 378 total transactions. That’s a 189 percent increase in volume and 161 percent increase in transactions year-over-year. KIRE also realized record-breaking sales volume for that same period — $342 million in closed transactions – in just six months.

Lack of inventory is the only thing holding back the onslaught of buyer interest. “Record low inventory from the last few quarters continue as Kiawah Island closes out the first half of year at a new historic low,” Whalen said. “Current Island-wide inventory across all property types is 121 which represents only 2.5 percent of the total number of properties on Kiawah Island. Over the last three years, inventory has dropped more than 76 percent.”

KIRE was also responsible for the largest real estate sale in Charleston-area history in the second quarter with the sale of The Vanderhorst Estate for $20.5 million. KIRE’s sale volume is 257 percent greater than the same period last year and 30% greater than the previous record high in the last 16 years.

Those record-breaking sales included two recent multimillion-dollar listings. Clients of Leslie Turner of Maison Real Estate and David Wertz of KIRE closed on a home that sold for $9 million at 23 Cormorant Island Lane. Located at the eastern end of the island, the retreat-like residence is in Summer Islands, a tony enclave of only nine homes surrounded by marshes. Very private, one can get there via a wooden bridge. The property has a main home and guest house, as well as an outdoor spa.

“The buyers looked at both oceanfront properties as well as marsh front properties. The family loves to go out in their boat, so they chose one of the few properties at Kiawah with a deep-water dock,” Turner said. “The home and guest house have incredible details, and they were also drawn to the marsh views. The property is very private, and the guest house is perfect for visiting guests and their adult son. These clients already own a home in the Charleston area, so it will be a second one for them.”

Wertz was the buyer’s agent for clients of Olga Page of Maison Real Estate for the sale of 9 Royal Beach Drive. The homesite closed at a price of $4.5 million. This .72 oceanfront site is within the Royal Beach enclave with proximity to The Beach Club, River Course, Marsh House and Osprey Point Course and The Ocean Course. The buyers wanted to build an oceanfront home and chose Kiawah Island to do that.

“A previous client referred a couple to me who were looking for property on Kiawah. They wanted to build an oceanfront home so I contacted Dave, and we began working together to find them the right oceanfront homesite,” Page said. “After touring a few potential properties that could work, my clients bought the marvelous oceanfront lot at 9 Royal Beach Drive through Kiawah Island Real Estate.”

Private islands

What’s better than an island estate? An island within an island. Lewis Driskell of KIRE lists one at Captain Maynards Island for $16.75 million. Building a custom riverside estate close to the ocean with deep-water access (and two deepwater docks), 360-degree views of Kiawah’s tidal marshlands, the property has a saltwater river and creek on each side. Access is via a private gate and down a half-mile long drive through the island’s maritime forest. A few minutes from Kiawah members-only golf, fitness, dining and spa, it has 11.377 acres, with 6.365 acres zoned for structures.

“This property gives buyers a unique chance to build a custom riverside estate close to the Atlantic Ocean with acreage and deepwater access to the Lowcountry’s waterways with unimpeded views across the Kiawah River tidal marshlands,” said Driskell.

Tricia Flanagan of KIRE lists the largest homesite in the history of Kiawah Island. At 85 Ocean Course Drive, and known as Cougar Island, the private island is priced at $12.5 million. It is on the eastern end of the island in the curve of Bass Creek and connected to the Ocean Course by a private entrance.

“This spectacular 25-acre estate has a full 3.78 acres of highland that comprise the buildable region of the landscape set in almost 360 degrees of waterway and marsh views,” said Flanagan. “It is a once in a lifetime chance to own an Island within an Island.”

The Town of Kiawah Island has designated two areas of the property for deep water docks, and Bass Creek will support boats with up to a four-foot draft at low tide. Walking and biking trails are abundant and the Marsh House, The Beach Club and golf is minutes away. The property has the potential for a subdivision into four homesites or one expansive family compound.

New active Life Plan Community in the future

Seafields at Kiawah Island is slated to break ground early Fall 2021 and pre-sales for all units are now available through Kiawah Island Real Estate. The first-of-its-kind, 62+ luxury life plan community will be within Freshfields Village. Residences will include 98 luxury one-, two-, and three-bedroom homes, and 16 assisted living and continuing care services complemented by amenities and services.

The life plan community community will be built on a nine-acre site purchased by Kiawah Life Plan Village Inc., a newly formed not-for-profit, from Kiawah Partners, a subsidiary of South Street Partners. Big Rock Partners, a nationally known developer of luxury senior living, is acting as developer of the property.

Conceived in response to a void in the market, and at the request of Kiawah and Seabrook property owners as a way to age in place, Seafields will feature a first of its kind in-house medical clinic operated by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC Health).

“We have worked hand-in-hand with Big Rock and MUSC Health to bring this concept to fruition. We heard the needs of our Kiawah residents, and those of the neighboring communities, and there was no question that Big Rock and MUSC Health were the natural fit — given our historical ties and the fact that they are the best in their class,” said Chris Randolph, Partner, Kiawah Partners.

Luxury amenities include 24-hour concierge, social events, fitness center, resort-style pool, bar/bistro and multiple dining venues, screening room and library with tech bar, on-site salon, yoga studio and an auditorium/multiple flex rooms. Memberships at The Governor’s Club at Kiawah Island Golf Resort will be available which gives island residents year-round access to Kiawah Island Golf Resort amenities along with exclusive benefits, discounts, private events and tournaments. Prices and the life plan community’s website will be available soon.