Whether you were born in Charleston or moved to the Holy City later in life, you're lucky to be here now. There's a reason we recently made headlines as the eighth fastest-growing metro area in the nation: It's really, really nice in the Lowcountry. Just ask all the Ohioans who've migrated here from their colder, bleaker home state.
We can all complain about the heat in July (and yes, it's getting worse), but at least we're not melting away in Columbia or Atlanta, which are more than a hundred miles from a beach. Wherever you're at in Charleston, it's only a short ride to soothing salt water. And while you're at it, why don't you just stay for a week and have a yourself a little staycation.
When it comes to renting a beach house, locals have a few key advantages, namely familiarity with the area beaches. Jim the insurance salesman in Pennsylvania doesn't know Snapper Jack's from the Boathouse; his vacation experience will be largely left to chance. But if you live here, you already know which beach best suits your taste. Even better, you'll be able to walk through any house before you rent it. With only about 50 rental licenses on the island, Sullivan's may be the toughest to find an affordable house at, but they're out there. Fortunately, Folly, IOP, and even Kiawah and Seabrook have a multitude of rental options, year round.
To help you plan your next upscale staycation, we talked to real estate agents and vacation specialists across Charleston's barrier islands. Heed their advice, and you may decide never to cross the county line again.
Don't get scammed
If you need a used washing machine, by all means, use Craigslist. For vacation rentals, walk carefully through the land of free classifieds. "Craigslist is just a mess," says Robert DiPrima, co-owner of MyOceanRental on Folly Beach, which manages about 50 weekly vacation properties on the island. "Scammers steal pictures and information off of legitimate websites like ours and put them on Craigslist with lower rates."
To avoid falling victim, follow these rules:• Always speak with a real person on the phone before committing to a rental. • Don't ever wire money to someone you don't personally know. Pay by credit card, over the phone, or in person. • If you find a house on Craigslist you're interested in, pull it up on Google Maps and make sure it's really at the location that the listing says it is. Search the address online and see if it turns up on a rental agency's site. If so, you may have found a legitimate rental property with a fraudulent listing.
Take your summer vacation in November
Ask any Sullivan's, Folly, or IOP resident their favorite month to live on the beach, and you'll likely hear April and October. Before and after the peak season, the temperatures are perfect, and the crowds have yet to descend on the islands.
Fortunately, rental rates are far cheaper outside of the Memorial Day-to-Labor Day window. "A month-long winter stay can cost really close to what you'd pay for a week in the summer," says Colin Landrith, a vacation specialist with Avocet Properties on Folly Beach.
It's even possible to plan a month-long staycation even while still going to work. Many properties offer severely discounted rates for long-term winter rentals, generally between October and April.
Get travel insurance
Even if you're local, there's always the chance an emergency — from an illness to a hurricane — will prevent you from using your rental house. Most companies have a 60-day cancellation policy, so it's completely feasible that something could arise over those two months to affect your trip.
Travel insurance is cheap, and having it can mean you've still got the cash to rent another house once things blow ever.
The best deals on the beaches are often giant multi-family homes. Why not team up with another family or two, increasing your spending power? Three families can feasibly rent a 5,000-square-foot mansion on Isle of Palms for less per family than each might pay for an individual condo.
"If you're searching for a six-bedroom home, for example, you might be limited," explains Shelley Miles, owner of Exclusive Properties, which rents properties on IOP and Folly. "Bump up your search, and you might find you can get a larger home for the same price, maybe with a few less amenities."
Likewise, families teaming up can find homes with amenities they could not have afforded on their own, like a hot tub or ping-pong table.
Keep it in perspective
Rental houses are not hotel rooms. You're using someone's house, and with the advantages come the chance that something might break or not work as expected. Take small problems in stride, and report issues or complaints to your rental agency or the owner as quickly as possible upon arrival.
Book in advance
If you want to get a sweet deal on a vacation home, book your rental in advance. In fact, most houses are booked for the entire summer well before the kids get out of school.
"The best houses book up quick," says MyOceanRental's DiPrima. He notes that securing a rental for the Cooper River Bridge Run weekend or college graduations should be done far in advance.
Still, Avocet's Landrith adds that "super last minute" inquiries can often turn up significant savings if a homeowner is eager to fill a spot during peak season.
Tell 'em you're a local
"Let us know you're a local — not for special treatment, but just because it's nice to know," DiPrima says. "Ask questions, and make sure you fully understand the property. In the high season, there's often nowhere to move you if the house isn't what you expected."
Living in town gives you the advantage of taking that gamble out of the equation. Plenty of out-of-towners have arrived at a vacation rental to discover that the pictures embellished the view or the spaciousness of the home. Eliminate the chance of disappointment by doing a drive-by inspection and then setting up an appointment to walk through the house (or several) before paying your deposit.
Even vacationing families who think they might return can do this, planning an hour or two to check out houses they might like for their return the following year.