Raine Riley has been renting in Pendleton the last seven years.
Through Riley’s college years at Clemson University, she lived in a 600 square foot apartment. When she married her high school sweetheart on their spring break, they were in for a surprise just days after the wedding.
A pandemic flipped around their plans of living and put them in her small apartment for four months.
By July 2020, they found a 1,250 sq. ft. 3-bedroom house they could rent after an intense interviewing process including outlining their budgeting plans with the landlords.
Two years into marriage and now graduated, they are ready for a home to call their own. A home where monthly mortgage costs would be the same as their monthly rent of $1,350.
At her wits end last week, Riley said she was about to throw in the towel, she was tired by the frustration of high prices and rapid turn-around times.
“We felt like we’ve been doing all the right things yet we’re still in a position where we can’t get a leg up,” she said. “And that has been very frustrating.”
SC apartment costs increase by 30%
Apartment costs in South Carolina have gone up by 30% this year compared to last year but one and two bedroom rentals are fuller than ever, data shows.
The average SC apartment rent in 2020 was $1,038 but it was $1,355 in 2021, a report from Rent.com shows.
In December 2021, apartment occupancy rates across the U.S. hit the highest percentage on record: 97.5%. The real estate industry generally considers 95% to 96% occupancy as full.
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Renters are staying put and renewing their leases as the home buying market continues to struggle with low inventory.
North Gate Apartments in Anderson are 100% full, a usual capacity for them, David Locke said. They have residents who’ve been with them more than 30 years along with newcomers but openings are rare.
The last two openings at the complex were because of a death and a marriage.
Because they’ve been full for so long they had to get rid of their waitlist for a time.
“Very few people are leaving,” he said. His renters are mostly seniors or single professionals.
Locke’s grandfather built the apartments on Liberty Highway in 1978.
Over the last two years, monthly costs have gone up around a hundred dollars. For a 1,000 square foot 2-bedroom place, the rent is a bit under $1,000.
The last time the apartments had multiple openings was when vaccinations began and more people felt comfortable traveling, he said. Those openings were filled rapidly.
“People are telling me they can’t find anything,” Locke said.
By the time he can put an apartment on the market, it’s usually already rented, Locke said.
For newly married couples, he has noticed a trend of going straight to a starter home instead of an apartment first.
Occupancy at Ashton Park Apartment Homes on Braeburn Drive in Anderson is almost at 94%, leasing specialist Sheila Mattison said.
They are actively looking to fill leases, she said.
The complex, built in 2005, was busier last year at this time but things have comparatively slowed down, she said. Mattison anticipates a busier season to come in the spring.
Pricing is higher now at the complex because their prices fluctuate daily to match the best market price, making a 2 bedroom apartment around $1,300 a month, she said.
Their clients vary from people downsizing to newcomers in the area. Mattison has also been seeing clients who “were going to buy but haven’t found anything because this house market is crazy right now,” she said.
“It’s to the point where they can put a bid in for a house and somebody’s going to outbid them. It becomes a bidding war.”
Buying a home comes down to who wants it most
“In our area it’s very hard to find rentals,” real estate agent Ala Chappelear said of Anderson County.
With around a quarter century of experience, she said buying a house is different these days. Realistic price expectations are key, Chappelear said.
Houses are frequently selling over asking price, not because of its intrinsic worth but because of what people are willing to pay for it.
For people with a rental lease ending soon, there are higher stakes in getting a home so they don’t have to move twice.
It comes down to who wants the property more, Chappelear said.
The Rileys, who spent two years in their Pendleton rental, started searching in the Clemson area despite the commute to Greenville, where Riley works at a PR agency.
With her masters degree and Tanner’s doctorate, student loan debts were a hinderance, she said.
Some of the homes they were going to tour were bought out before they could drive there. With some people waiving inspections and paying over asking price, it leaves little room for hesitation, she said.
Tanner is a real estate attorney and knows the regret that comes with waving an inspection.
The couple ate the cost of one inspection on a home that ended up needing major renovation. A high enough investment to turn them away from the property.
Then Sunday happened. They decided to look farther out past Pendleton and saw a home at noon. They put in an offer at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. By Monday afternoon, the sellers had accepted their offer.
“Its been a whirlwind.”
The home was the first one they put an offer on after seeing multiple in person. It was under their budget, something that shocked them.
“We’re not going to buy a house, just to buy a house,” she said. “The house has to be the one. It’s a big part of your life.”
Despite the rapid offer, stressful searching and years in rentals, the Rileys are looking ahead to the next chapter in their “miracle” home.
Sarah Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She’d appreciate your help telling important stories; reach her at [email protected] or on twitter @saralinasher.