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Coronavirus drives sales surge for remote homes

Ross Norton //November 3, 2020//

Coronavirus drives sales surge for remote homes

Ross Norton //November 3, 2020//

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The president of The Cliffs says the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a desire to live and work from home in places that are away from crowds and offer vacation-line amenities, such as golf and hiking. These hikers live in The Cliffs at Walnut Cove. (Photo/Provided)Some people who work for the Tampa Electric Co. in Florida have to be there to get the job done.

Regan Haines does not. He’s proven it over the last seven months. The engineer, as well as the rest of his team, continue to work from their homes to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic. Meetings are conducted, collaboration takes place, deadlines are met.

“With the technology today you can really communicate and collaborate and keep things going — we’ve shown that,” Haines said. “I think it’s going to cause companies to take a different look at office space.”

Office workers like Haines are taking a different look, too. Haines is a Clemson University graduate, and his wife is from Spartanburg, so the Upstate has long held an allure. For years he has been eyeing The Cliffs communities as a retirement home.

Those plans have been accelerated by cancer and COVID. Haines beat cancer, but it made him want to get to his ultimate home sooner. The coronavirus showed him that he doesn’t have to retire to get there.

The Cliffs include seven communities around the mountains and lakes, between Greenville and Asheville. Most of them are around the Lake Keowee area and one is near Asheville. Some of them are quite remote, with a couple being about 40 minutes from a supermarket. Haines’s future home will be on the last right turn in South Carolina on a thinly inhabited stretch of Highway 25 between Travelers Rest and Hendersonville. Home prices do not fall as you move away from city centers, however. Real estate sales totaled $186 million in 2019 with 283 transactions in the seven communities of The Cliffs.

Home sales nationally were smacked at the very beginning of the pandemic, but National Association of Realtors’ chief economist said on the organization’s website that prices started coming back a few weeks later as demand grew. He predicts 2020 will see an overall growth rate for prices of about 4%.

For The Cliffs and its coastal cousin, Kiawah Island, it’s going gangbusters, according to Rob Duckett, president of The Cliffs. He said The Cliffs has doubled its sales projections for the rest of the year and he lays much of the credit on COVID-19.

Through the third quarter, The Cliffs had $216,936,942 in closed and pending sales for the year, a 90% increase from the same period in 2019, according to information provided by the company. Additionally, third quarter closed transactions alone were up 153% from last year — 49 sales in the third quarter of 2019 versus 124 sales for the same period this year.

Kiawah Island Club and Real Estate reported a 633% increase in contracts and a 1,400% increase in volume in July 2020 over July 2019. They closed more than $99.4 million in August alone, the group’s largest month in history by 37.5%.

The Cliffs is owned by South Street Partners of Charlotte and Charleston. They are also the master developer of Kiawah Island and the owners of Kiawah Island Club and Kiawah Island Real Estate.

“We do think the virus has been good for our industry in a lot of senses,” Duckett said.  “One is the folks in the more dense metropolitan-type areas are seeking refuge outside. They see that in a community like ours, or in our region, that we’re still living our lives. That we’re out and about that we’re still going to restaurants.”

For the most part, people who move to The Cliffs are not moving from another part of South Carolina. They are people wanting to live in a new climate and a new region. The communities receive a lot of interest from people in the Northeast, Midwest, California, Florida and the Washington, D.C. area. Kiawah Island is marketed heavily in the Northeast and most of the interest comes from that region, Duckett said.

In both cases, potential buyers and club members always were interested in the lifestyle, but now they are considering what it would be like to live and work there.

“People started looking into the future, you know: how do I want to live my life?” Duckett said. “And we’re getting a lot of inquiries from these metropolitan areas about our lifestyles and about what our region can offer them. People are working from home and doing it successfully so they’re asking: Can we do that there, what’s your wi-fi connectivity like, how easy is it for me to get to the airport, what airports are nearby — those are the kind of questions.”

Duckett said it’s not just the notion of working from home that is driving interest, but also some re-thinking about travel during a pandemic and after.

“People are not traveling, you know, and we offer a product that is like vacation at home,” he said. “We have things for them to do every day that are recreational in nature. We offer things that are social in nature. We have what we call cultural pursuits where you can continue to learn here in the communities. We have outdoor pursuits where you can enjoy the outdoors, we have our sporting pursuits which is your traditional golf, tennis, pickleball, bocce ball, boating, swimming, all those things.” 

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 19, 2020, print edition of the GSA Business Report.