Charleston appeals to romantics, history buffs, and beach lovers alike, but there’s much more to this charming seaside city than meets the eye. With well-preserved architecture lining cobblestone roads, Charleston invites people to slow down. This city enjoys a well-deserved reputation for excellent dining and a walkable city center, making it a great place to live and play. But don’t let the relaxed pace of life here fool you – Charleston is a proper city, even if it sometimes gives off a small-town vibe. It’s the oldest, largest city in South Carolina and offers excellent art, culture, entertainment, education, and job opportunities.
Multiple local universities promise a constant influx of youthful culture with the lively nightlife you might expect. But the booming local economy ensures that many of those students stay, contributing to a well-rounded residential population. Natural beauty is easy to come by, either at the beach, along the rivers, or in the many parks and green spaces around the city. To top it all off, Charlestonians are known for their friendliness and southern hospitality. So, welcome to your new hometown! When you’re ready for help planning your move, click ‘Find Charleston Movers’ to receive up to four free quotes from our trusty, experienced Charleston movers.
Living in Charleston, SC: What to Know Before Moving to Charleston
The most populous city in South Carolina, the “Holy City,” is home to 136,208 people, but the metro area is closer to 787,643. This center of antebellum charm and waterfront beauty is no secret when it comes to high-ranking cities of the world.
Pros and Cons of Living in Charleston
- Proximity to natural beauty – Beaches, parks, rivers, Charleston’s got it all.
- Deep-rooted history – Incredible architecture and American history linger around every corner.
- Hospitality – The friendly, welcoming attitude of Charlestonians is legendary.
- Foodie paradise – Seafood, southern staples, and so much mouthwatering food abounds.
- Great universities – Top-notch universities and colleges offer higher education opportunities.
- Thriving economy – The area boasts low unemployment and plenty of jobs in a variety of industries.
- Low fuel costs – Getting around is cheaper here than in many parts of the country.
- Construction – Humidity and antiquity plus growth equal constant construction.
- Traffic – Increased traffic volume is one of the many growing pains the city feels.
- Bugs galore – Mosquitoes and other biting insects have a field day in this humid climate.
- Hot, humid summers – It’s only a few months of the year, but summer can be oppressive.
- Cost of living – Housing is expensive, and the cost of living is constantly increasing.
- Flooding – In the Low Country, high water is a serious issue.
- Property Tax: Primary residences are taxed at .48%, making this the seventh-lowest property tax in the state and less than half the national average rate of 1.08%.
- Sales Tax: Charleston residents pay a combined sales tax rate of 9%, compared to 7.3% US average sales tax.
- State Income Tax: South Carolina has a progressive state income tax that starts at 3% for anyone earning over $2,970 and tops out at 7% for earners claiming over $14,860 per year. The US average state income tax is 4.6%.
Charleston’s housing market is strong and stable, with demand outstripping supply year after year. However, high prices have slowed the sale of homes in the last year. Renters currently occupy 35.85% of the households in Charleston. The median home value is $317,500 as of September 2019, but the median list price of homes is $383,700. Home prices increased .3% in the past year and are forecast to go up another 1.1% in 2020.
Unfortunately, all of this means that rental rates are on the rise, with median rent currently at $1,508, just above the national average. Renters will find Charleston less expensive than most large cities, but expensive for its size. Despite rising rents, it’s still possible to score a good deal in neighborhoods like Riverland Terrace, West Ashley, and Stiles Point.
Cost of Living
The cost of living index in Charleston is higher than the national average. This higher index is primarily due to housing costs that are more than a third higher than the US average. Bestplaces.net calculates the cost of living index based on a US average of 100. The overall cost of living index in Charleston is 111.5. Housing is 136.9. Other higher than average costs are groceries 105.6 and utilities 101.6. Lower than average costs include transportation 94.1 and healthcare 98.1.
The median income in Charleston is $33,117, almost $5,000 less than the national average. Based on Economic Policy Institute calculations, a single person living in Charleston can expect to get by on $3,229 per month, but a couple with two children must earn $6,774 per month ($81,391/year) to get by comfortably.
Weather & Natural Disasters
Like many places, one could say of Charleston, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes, and it’ll change.” Summers have a reputation for being sweltering, but the subtropical climate is mild for the rest of the year. Spring temperatures average a high of around 72 degrees and lows in the high 50s, with fantastic blooms sweetening the air. The warmest month is July, with highs barely hitting the low 90s, but cool coastal breezes and frequent thunderstorms take the edge off the heat. Despite the hype, the average high temperature for summer is 82 degrees, with a low average of 78. Fall brings bright, clear sunny days and cool evenings with average highs of 76 and lows in the high 50s. And winter is mild, with highs around 52 degrees and lows in the mid-40s. It rarely freezes, but if there are snow flurries, they’ll be in late December or early January.
Charleston isn’t immune to natural disasters. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods are common threats. The low-lying coastal setting of Charleston is particularly vulnerable to flooding, so determining whether a property is in a flood zone before buying is advisable, and investing in flood insurance is recommended for both homeowners and renters. The South Carolina Government website has plenty of excellent resources to help families prepare for disasters.
Economy & Job Market
Charleston has seen a decade of strong economic growth, and from a workforce perspective, has a great potential trajectory. South Carolina’s largest city is attractive to manufacturers such as Boeing, Chrysler, Mercedes, and Volvo – all of whom have opened plants in North Charleston. The well-established port and rail infrastructure of the area make it a perfect fit for manufacturing. One-third of the local workforce works in education, health services, retail, or tourism industries.
The 2.8% unemployment rate is well below the 3.7% national average, making it a job-seekers’ market. Some of the largest employers are Joint Base Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina, The Boeing Company, Charleston County School District, City of Charleston, Cummins Turbo Technologies, Trident Health System, Roper St. Francis Healthcare, Berkley County School District, and Dorchester County School District II.
Job seekers should look for jobs in manufacturing, education, healthcare, and hospitality. Some of the resources available to help you find employment include Better Charleston Jobs, Coastal resources Staffing, Get a Job Charleston, SC Works Trident, or even the Looking for a job Charleston Facebook page. The lowdown on job seeking in Charleston is that there are plenty of jobs at all levels of experience for the taking.
Traffic and Transportation
The same waterfront boundaries that give Charleston its charming coastal vibe also mean that the area is reliant upon a network of bridges to span waterways. One small accident can bring circulation to a grinding halt. Summerville to downtown can take a couple of hours during the morning rush hour. In outlying areas, the traffic is no worse than any large city, but the closer you get to downtown, the more congested the roads are.
I-26 is the major north-south thoroughfare. I-52 runs north-south parallel to I-26 before terminating south of the city. I-17 runs east-west west from Mount Pleasant, eventually connecting to I-26 in the center of Charleston and then continuing west of town.
The public transportation options offer value to both residents and tourists. The city’s bus system, known as CARTA, features 26 routes throughout the Charleston metro area. CARTA offers routes that include an airport shuttle and a downtown shuttle and is working to increase ridership through expanded offerings, such as a park and ride facility. Inside the city center, the Downtown Area Shuttle, or DASH, runs three routes within the Charleston peninsula that cost nothing and have air conditioning and WiFi.
Charleston has an exceptional walk score of 93, but this number is a bit misleading, as it only covers the Charleston peninsula, leaving out the many sprawling areas where Charlestonians live. The bike score of 80 is admirable but also covers only this limited area. However, even in this small area, the below-average transit score of 40 is an indicator that most people drive to commute and run errands.
What to Do in Charleston
Charleston is widely touted as a romantic city, and it’s hard not to be bowled over by its charms. However, there’s more to the city than quaint architecture and ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Charleston is a lively city full of art, music, food, and culture with an incredibly walkable center. With beaches bordering the city on multiple sides, there’s no shortage of ocean-faring recreation available, from surfing to tanning. From gastronomy to history, here are a few things to look forward to in your new home town.
Charleston boasts a renowned and growing food scene, thanks in part to over 7 million tourists who visit the city each year. From traditional Southern fare to elevated haute cuisine, there are almost limitless dining options around town, with a strong emphasis on local seafood. And for those who prefer to cook their own masterpieces at home, Charleston offers over a dozen farmers’ markets in every part of town, some even going year-round. For lovers of spirits, you can partake at the city’s first post-prohibition distillery, High Wire Distilling, in addition to several breweries.
The streets of Charleston can feel like you’re walking through a living museum, but along those streets, there are plenty of cultural institutions to explore. History buffs will love strolling through The Charleston Museum’s collection that began in 1773 – earning it the title, “America’s First Museum.” The McLeod Plantation Historic Site on James Island gives a glimpse of the post-Civil War entwined with Gullah culture and a look at slavery, oppression, and the lives of freemen. Gibbes Museum of Art is home to over 10,000 works of art with permanent and rotating collections. And the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry invites families to explore stimulating, exciting environments.
Green space abounds in this city, with a total of 121 public parks, ranging from regional parks and beach parks to waterparks and plantations – over 11,000 acres in all. Brittlebank Park, located right in downtown Charleston, is the site of beloved festivals and great views of the Ashley River. Palmetto Islands County Park offers visitors an untouched view of regional flora and fauna a mere 20-minute drive from downtown. Folly Beach County Park provides 2,500 feet of ocean frontage with year-round amenities including boogie board and surfboard rentals. For breathtaking sunsets, Pit Street Bridge in Mount Pleasant is the perfect setting for kayaking, fishing, or popping the big question.
Sports fans may be disappointed by the lack of major league franchises in the city, but they will be pleased with the college sports teams. The University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers play some of the highest-attended college games in the country. Both Clemson and South Carolina’s baseball teams are consistently ranked, the men’s and women’s basketball teams have won national titles. You can find minor hockey with the South Carolina Stingrays playing at the North Charleston Coliseum, and minor league soccer with the Charleston Battery playing the MUSC Health Stadium.
Schools and Universities
The Charleston 01 School District serves 48,084 students, and Berkley 01 School District serves 33,303 students. The high school graduation rate is 92.9%, which is higher than the national average. Some of the top-rated schools, according to greatschools.org, are James Island Charter School, rated 7/10; Daniel Island School 7/10; Ashley River Creative Arts 9/10; Camp Road Middle 7/10, and the Academic Magnet in North Charleston was recently named the best high school in the country.
The Charleston area is home to several four-year and graduate institutions, including Charleston Southern University, College of Charleston, Charleston School of Law, The Medical University of South Carolina, and Clemson University at Charleston. Two-year institutions include Trident Technical College and The Citadel.
Charleston is a fairly safe city, with overall crime rates lower than the national average by about 6% and 30% lower than the rest of South Carolina. Violent crimes in the city are 26% lower than the national average, and property crimes are 3% lower. These numbers add up to Charleston being safer than 39% of other cities its size in the country.
The crime rates in Charleston are dropping 4% year over year, so despite the growth, the crime outlook remains good. Certain areas may have pockets of higher crime, so it’s always a good idea to do your research before you settle on a neighborhood.
Charleston residents rely on several providers for their utilities. If you are renting, hopefully your water and sewage will be included in your rent. However, whether you’re renting or purchasing a home, here are all the resources you’ll need to get connected:
- Electric and gas service: SCEG is the primary provider of gas and electric service for Charleston. Visit the online form or call 866-794-5061 to start, stop, or transfer service.
- Water service: Charleston Water is the water utility of Charleston. Setting up your account is as easy as submitting an online request or calling 843-727-6800.
- Trash collection and recycling service: CharlestonSC Government takes out the trash in Charleston. To start an account, submit an online request or call 843-724-7311.
- Internet and cable services: For internet and cable, residents can choose between Xfinity, AT&T, and Wow! To start an account, click on either of the links above and view the available options.
Best Neighborhoods in Charleston, SC
With an eclectic mix of students, families, and young professionals, downtown Charleston offers some of the most desirable real estate around. Everything on the Charleston peninsula south of I-17 can be considered downtown, so it’s a large area chopped up into many smaller “neighborhoods.”
You’ll find a wide range of housing types from historic 1920s colorfully painted bungalows and small cottages to grand, traditional homes and modern condos. And with 62% of the residents renting, you’re sure to find a nice blend of new arrivals and long-timers.
The downtown area features every type of amenity one could want, all within walking distance. Award-winning restaurants, waterfront parks, historical monuments, museums, and historic architecture: downtown has it all. However, the price you pay for living downtown is steep: parking is a challenge, property values are extremely high, and traffic can be maddening. That said, there’s excellent, mostly free public transportation throughout downtown, which can take some of the edge off of getting around.
- Population – 9,912
- Home Price – Median home value $694,083
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,485
- Employers – Blackbaud, College of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina, Roper St. Francis Healthcare, Scientific Research Corporation, South Carolina Federal Credit Union, State of South Carolina, Trident Medical Center, US Department of Justice
- Schools – Ensign School, Wasatch School, Eastwood School, Churchill Junior High School, Skyline High School, West High School, Innovations High School, East High School
Something to try: Visit the South Carolina Aquarium to see marine life up close and personal.
For one of the most desirable zip codes in Charleston, head 20 minutes south of downtown to Folly Beach. On the southernmost end of James Island, Folly Beach is bordered to the northwest by Sol Legare Road, to the northeast by Lighthouse Creek, and otherwise is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. This neighborhood is the place to be if you want your home to feel like a year-round vacation.
The housing in Folly Beach is mostly historical, with a blend of newer construction thrown into the mix. The residents are eclectic, comprising musicians, young professionals, visual artists, and retirees. About 45% of Folly Beach residents are renters, so there’s a strong, established community here.
Being home to one of the most popular beaches in the region means that there are a ton of amenities, including locals’ favorite Bert’s Market, a small shop that’s open 24 hours a day. Most of the locals surf, fish, and enjoy the many outdoor opportunities afforded by proximity to the beach, and flip flops are considered mandatory for day-to-day life here.
The downsides to living in Folly Beach are that during high season the area is thronging with tourists, which can make parking a hassle and can clog up the surfing real estate with outsiders. But the community welcomes visitors: the same things that make Folly Beach a great place to live make it a fun place to visit.
- Population – Just over 2,712
- Home Price – Median home value $577,500
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,058
- Employers – Booz Allen Hamilton, Charleston Southern University, East Cooper Medical Center, Joint Base Charleston, Roper Francis Healthcare, SAIC, South State Bank, The Citadel, US Department of State CGFS, Wells Fargo & Co
- Schools –Montessori Community School, Ashley River Creative Arts School, Orange Grove Elementary Charter School, Buist Academy, Haut Gap Middle School, James Island Middle School, Academic Magnet High School, Charleston School of the Arts, and James Island Charter High School
Something to try: Eat al fresco on Folly Beach pier and enjoy a breathtaking sunset.
Located only 10 minutes southwest of Downtown, you’ll find James Island, bounded on the west by Riverland Drive, on the east side by Charleston Harbor, to the north by Wappo Creek, and to the south by Successionville Creek. I-30 provides easy access to Downtown. The location between Folly Beach and downtown Charleston provides the best of both worlds for residents seeking access to each.
With its ocean breezes and small-town feel, this neighborhood ranks as one of the best in Charleston. There are many single-family brick homes on large lots with mature trees, and you’ll encounter a good bit of newer, mixed-use construction as well. With only 15% of the residents here renting, you’ll find a very established community of folks.
James Island hosts many festivals in the county park, and almost every family in the area seems to own a watercraft of some sort. With golf courses, boat launches, and great views of the harbor, this is a dream neighborhood for families and professionals of all stripes. The neighborhood comes with a high price tag, but the payoff is the small-town feel that makes residents feel at home.
- Population – 11,908
- Home Price – Median home value $261,300
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,092
- Employers – Berkeley County School District, City of Charleston, College of Charleston, Inteletech Global, Nucor Steel, Trident Technical College, Verizon Wireless
- Schools – Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, Orange Grove Elementary Charter School, Buist Academy, Harbor View Elementary School, Stiles Point Elementary School, East Cooper Montessori Charter School, Charleston School of the Arts, Fort Johnson Middle School, Academic Magnet High School, James River Charter High School
Something to try: Check out the Annual Holiday Festival of Lights around Christmastime.
Just 10 minutes east of downtown Charleston, over the Ravenel Bridge, Mount Pleasant is one of the most populous areas in the metro area. It’s bordered to the north and northeast by the Wando River, to the east by Hamlin Sound, the south by Sullivan island, and the west by the Ashley River.
This community is an established municipality, with many parks and wooded areas. Expect to find a diverse population with an emphasis on families. Only 29% of the residents are renters, meaning you’ll find close-knit neighbors with long histories in the area. Most of the available housing is single-family homes, with some condos and other high-density options in various areas.
There are good shopping and dining options available, but traffic is serious, and there is little nightlife. The safe streets and excellent school districts are a draw for those seeking a friendly, family-centered place to live.
- Population – 80,661
- Home Price – Median home value $413,600
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,465
- Employers – BenefitFocus, Blackbaud, Inc, City of Charleston, College of Charleston East Cooper Medical Center, Ralph H Johnson VA Medical Center, Roper St Francis Healthcare, Scientific Research Corporation, South State Bank, Town of Mount Pleasant
- Schools – Montessori Community School, Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, Jennie Moore Elementary School, Orange Grove Elementary Charter School, Buist Academy, Belle Hall Elementary School, Mamie Whitesides Elementary School, Moultrie Middle School, Laing Middle School, Thomas C Cario Middle School, East Cooper Montessori Charter School, Charleston School of the Arts, Wando High School, Charleston Charter School for Math & Science
Something to try: Visit the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Pavilion to see local basket makers demonstrate their craft.
Located 13 minutes northwest of downtown, North Charleston is an affordable part of the metro area with access to great schools. Bordered to the north by University Boulevard, to the east by Northbrook Boulevard and Railroad Avenue, to the east by S 1700 E, to the south and southwest by the Ashley River, and the northwest by Ladson Road, this is a massive municipality.
It’s possible to find every sort of housing type you could want in North Charleston, from gated communities to hip, up-and-coming hotspots. 56% of residents in the area are renters, with many young professionals, students, and families calling the area home.
With excellent amenities, access to major highways, and public transportation running throughout, it’s possible to be on a beautiful beach in less than 30 minutes without the high price tag of living on the waterfront. An excellent farmers market, live music venues, and plenty of parks make this a perfect place to call home.
- Population – 108,186
- Home Price – Median home value $155,900
- Rent Prices – Median rent $952
- Employers – Boeing, BAE Systems USA, Charleston County, CodeLynx, Dorchester School District, iQor, InterContinental Hotels Group, Joint Base Charleston, Robert Bosch Corporation, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Trident Medical Center, US Postal Service
- Schools –Beech Hill Elementary School, Fort Dorchester Elementary School, Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, Montessori Community School, Oakbrook Elementary School, Rollings Middle School of the Arts, Orange Grove Elementary Charter School, Buist Academy, East Cooper Montessori Charter School, Gregg Middle School, Charles B DuBose Middle School, Oakbrook Middle School, Academic Magnet High School, Charleston School of the Arts, Palmetto Scholars Academy, Ashley Ridge High School
Something to try: Visit the North Charleston Coliseum to see the South Caroline Stingrays play ice hockey.
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