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Tourism: Start of school caps strong rental season

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Vacation rentals along the Hammock Coast, brand name for Georgetown County vacation destinations, continued their recovery this summer, according to local real estate professionals.

“We had a great summer, the best yet,” said Stoney Miller, broker-in-charge at Litchfield Real Estate. And that’s going back to 1959.

Although the rental market dipped during the Great Recession, “we’ve stayed on it,” he said. “We do a lot of marketing.”

Discounts helped rebuild rental traffic, Miller said, and now the company is backing off of that. Part of the growth is from new people coming to the area. Those generally fall within a five-hour drive from the beach.

And the market remains oriented toward family vacations, which means when school starts families stay home. Although the overall numbers decline, Miller said he expects the fall season to be strong in comparison with past years.

Lou Lachicotte, broker-in- charge at the Lachicotte Co., said the seasonal rental market is in the midst of changing gears to accommodate retirees who tend to stay longer than a single week in late summer and autumn when prices go down.

Labor Day weekend is summer’s traditional last hurrah, but some beach house owners tend to use that weekend to inspect property and prepare for next year, she said. About 20 percent of her owners have claimed Labor Day for themselves, Lachicotte said.

“Rental numbers are looking good, trending right along with last year,” said Matt Giltmier, new director of the Lachicotte firm’s property management division. He was previously with Pawleys Island Realty. Most families with school children have only about eight weeks available to them during the summer for a week’s vacation, and that time shrinks with snow make-up days and early-August football practice. “It’s a constant battle,” Giltmier said. “Summer is trending shorter and shorter.”

Advanced reservations for next summer are also looking good. “We are creatures of habit,” Giltmier said. “I vacationed here for 30 years, same house, same week, before moving here 10 years ago.”

Linwood Altman, owner of Pawleys Island Realty, said both sales and rentals are up in his Pawleys Island office and at the Georgetown Agency.

“The rental business has been good this year,” he said, “and fall will be substantially better than last year.”

With the economy continuing to show signs of improvement, Altman said his firm is getting more calls for holiday rentals for beach houses and at Pawleys Pier Village condos. “Things are picking up all the way around,” he said. “Overall, I would consider this a very good year, not as good as ’05 and ’06, but it’ll get there.”

Will Dieter, broker-in- charge at the Dieter Co., is enjoying a record month to end what he called a strong summer. Fall rentals, he said, are on a par with the last few years.

“We are such a family-based destination,” Dieter said, “we are limited to traditional school vacations. Thankfully Virginia and Tennessee don’t go back until after Labor Day.”

The rebranding of Georgetown County beaches as the Hammock Coast is a work in progress, Dieter said. He doesn’t hear many renters using the term. “We’ve still got some work to do,” he said. “It’s hard to brand a whole destination that includes Garden City, Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island, DeBordieu and Georgetown. The county has some challenges getting positive traction with the Hammock Coast.”

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