This article about the "low country" of South Carolina is the first in a series of retirement regions. Go to the "Regions" section of the Tips & Picks feature to read the others in this series.
South Carolina has experienced rapid growth in the last 30 years, much of it from retirees seeking a warmer climate and lower cost of living. As more and more baby boomers begin to retire that trend is certain to continue. Although retirees have been moving into all parts of the state, the area in the southwest low country near Hilton Head has experienced the most explosive growth. This part of SC is actually closer to Savannah, GA than it is Charleston, although that too is relatively close.
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South Carolina's population in 2008 was 4,479,800 and growing at about 1.7% per year. Some of that growth is coming from retirees entering the state. Obviously the housing market crash has impacted sales and prices in 55+ and active adult communities in SC, but probably less so than for the housing market in general. For the record, South Carolina has an income tax (maximum rate of 7%, people over 65 get some significant exemptions), and a sales tax (6%). Property taxes are relatively modest compared to other states; its total tax burden is 37th highest of the 50 states (source: The Tax Foundation).
Thanks to the great success of Hilton Head Island as a vacation and retirement spot, the entire southwestern area of the state is now a retirement hot bed. Part of the attraction are the many rivers and bays are in the area, making waterfront living possible for many people at somewhat reasonable prices. Here we will take a look at the various areas near Hilton Head.
Hardeeville. If you have ever driven to FL from the East Coast you probably went through here on I 95. Although the town itself has only about 2800 people, there are 4 huge planned active adult communities being built here that will add significantly to the population. While it is doubtful that many affluent baby boomers from the northeast might want to live in Hardeeville proper, they will almost certainly like the lifestyle in the new active adult communities:
- Hilton Head Tradition This huge master-planned community is still in the process of being built
- Hilton Head Lakes Another very large development in the area, initially focused on single-family residential development with lagoon-front lots
In the New River and East Argent section of town are 2 more developments for boomers:
- Hampton Pointe, a residential golf course development by luxury home builder Toll Brothers
- Courtney Bend, a luxury garden apartment community
Bluffton. This is a much nicer town, located on a bluff overlooking the May River. In this old town near the river you can discover art and antique galleries and the Riverfront Pocket Park and Garden. The area is famous for its Bluffton oysters, and in town the oldest continuous oyster-shucking facility in South Carolina is a local attraction. Bluffton also hosts a number of active adult communities, including some huge ones.
Beaufort. Just north of Hilton Head is another classic southern town, Beaufort. Horse-drawn carriages roll along streets in the town’s charming historic district that are overhung with Spanish moss. The area offers a laid back atmosphere that most people find very relaxing. Beaufort has 304 acres of the town designated as a National Historic Landmark. Many active adult communities radiate from town.
Hilton Head Island. Just about everybody knows what a great place Hilton Head Island is for play and retirement. The Harbour Town shops and Lighthouse at Sea Pines Resort are major attractions. It has beautiful beaches and fabulous golf courses. The area tends to be quite exclusive - most of it comprised of planned developments, usually referred to as “plantations”. Its popularity means that prices are correspondingly higher - the median home price in August, 2009 was just over $400,000, according to Zillow.com. Fortunately there is plenty of land near the water surrounding Hilton Head on 3 sides. Builders from all over the country are here developing active adult and 55+ communities trading off of the Hilton Head cachet. Here are 2 Hilton Head communities - there are many more.
Port Royal. Also very near Hilton Head, Port Royal's population is growing fast (from a small base). In 2007 the population was 2800. The famous hurricane scene from Forrest Gump was filmed in the town's dock area.
Other Towns in the region. The region is dotted with active adult communities to explore. Some of the other small towns in the Southwest Low Country include Laurel Bay, Burton, and Shell Point.
What People Like about this area of SC
- Mild winter climate
- Being near the coast, bays, and rivers
- Cachet and prestige of Hilton Head
- Brand new,master-planned developments
- Outstanding recreation such as golf, tennis, fishing, boating
- A few of the towns are charming
What People don't like
- Hot, humid summers
- Traffic and intense development
- Everything tends to be new; stores tend to be big box and chains
- Unease between original residents and the transplants
This part of SC is definitely one of the best retirement regions in the world. It is far too big to categorize or describe adequately in one article. So we recommend you come on down. Spend a week or two driving around, or better yet, rent a place for a month. Talk to residents and real estate agents and get an idea for yourself. You really won't know if you like it until you see it for yourself! Good luck.
What Do You Think.
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South Carolina Retirement Guide
List of SC Active Adult Communities