8 Great Suburbs in the Area
There's more to Charlotte's suburbs than better prices and lower taxes. We enlisted the help of real estate experts to come up with the best 'burbs the area has to offer. Plus find out what your home is worth now.
One good thing about this real estate market: there are deals to be had. Lots of them. Even in the suburbs, which were already known for lower land prices and, in some cases, lower taxes, home prices are way off their peaks, and infrastructure is finally catching up to all the homebuilding of the 2000s. So we asked real estate experts to weed through the data and tell us which are the best suburbs in Charlotte:
1. Fort Mill
It’s not just the relatively low property tax that’s persuading families and newcomers to look across the border—“You get all of the conveniences of Ballantyne and the south Charlotte corridor without having to pay for it,” says Jonathan Osman, a broker at Keller Williams. Good schools, affordable single-family homes (buyers can scoop up a home in the $150,000 to $300,000 range for 1,700 to 3,200 square feet), new hospitals, and proximity to I-485 and I-77 have made Fort Mill one of the most desirable ’burbs in the Charlotte area. “Your overall cost of living is less expensive in Fort Mill,” says Keith Thompson, a broker with Prudential Carolinas Realty, citing expenses such as car insurance. Plus, neighborhoods such as Baxter Village —which has been one of the more popular neighborhoods in the Carolinas, according to real estate analysts—are appealing to young families looking for a strong sense of community. “Fort Mill’s been a hot spot for the past four or five years,” says Jim Crowley, a broker with Keller Williams. “And I see it staying that way for quite some time.”
Distance from Uptown:
Eighteen miles, or about forty minutes during rush hour
South Carolina taxes and lower cost of living coupled with decent schools, new hospitals, and access to nearby Ballantyne and south Charlotte’s offerings.
Proximity to major highways:
Five to ten minutes to I-77, fifteen to twenty to I-485
Proximity to shopping:
Ten minutes to Ballantyne, Blakeney, and Stonecrest. About twenty to Carolina Place Mall
When out-of-towners fall in love with the quaintness of Davidson but can’t quite afford the home prices, their best bet is to look east toward downtown Concord. This northeastern suburb boasts a botanical garden, art galleries, theaters, specialty shops, and restaurants, all within walking distance. “Downtown Concord offers a lot of entertainment options, while also maintaining its small-town charm,” says Keith Thompson, a Realtor with Prudential Carolinas Realty. Add proximity to the I-85 corridor and Concord Mills to the diverse schooling options and relatively low property taxes, and it’s easy to see why this once-hidden gem has been one of the top places for newcomers to move to in recent years. Plus, the small-town feel isn’t confined to downtown: residents exude southern charm. “It’s the biggest comment we get from folks who come here,” says Leigh Brown, a broker with Re/Max Executive Realty. “People here wave to you as you drive through neighborhoods.”
Distance from Uptown: Twenty miles, or about forty-five minutes during rush hour
Proximity to major highways: Less than ten minutes to I-85, fifteen minutes to I-485
Proximity to major shopping destinations: Just minutes to downtown Concord. Fifteen minutes to Concord Mills
Perks: Beech Spring Mountain Bike Park (Poplar Tent Road) and Sherman Branch Park (Rocky River Church Road) are two of the best mountain biking trails in the region. Frank Liske Park offers ball fields, picnic shelters, mini-golf, volleyball courts, paddle boating, walking trails, and a popular summer camp.
3. Indian Trail
Longtime Charlotteans may have a hard time believing Indian Trail is one of the top places Realtors tell potential buyers to settle down. Believe it. This once-sleepy town in southeastern Union County became a hotbed during the boom, resulting in dozens of new neighborhoods. Six years later, the infrastructure has caught up, making way for new retail and restaurants. At nearby Sun Valley Commons, where a massive cineplex opens this summer along with restaurants and retailers, locals head to sports bar Bonfire Bar & Grill while families pack fro-yo spot Just Chillin on weeknights and weekends. “[Indian Trail] is really turning into the next Huntersville,” says Osman. “You have the convenience of Matthews without having to pay for it. You have easy access to south Charlotte.” Indian Trail still boasts a small-town charm—football Friday nights at Sun Valley High School draw crowds from all over the county.
Distance from Uptown: Fifteen miles, or about forty-five minutes during rush hour
Perks: Union County taxes plus the addition of Sun Valley Commons’ retail and restaurant offerings mean there’s less reason to drive into town
Proximity to major highways: Less than ten minutes to I-485, just minutes to Highway 7
Proximity to shopping: Twenty minutes to Blakeney and Stonecrest, twenty-five minutes to Ballantyne, fifteen minutes to Sycamore Commons in Matthews (Old Navy, Costco, New Balance)
There’s a reason Huntersville remains one of the strongest markets in the Charlotte area—besides the prime location just twenty minutes from uptown, this ’burb also boasts some of CMS’s best schools, some of the area’s most affordable homes (you can expect to pay $90 to $100 per square foot for a home here), and proximity to great retail (such as Birkdale Village) and restaurants. “You’re only twenty minutes away from Charlotte, but it feels like you’re on vacation,” says Ryan Willis, a broker with Boxwood Realty. Considered the north Charlotte version of Ballantyne, Huntersville has one thing south Charlotte doesn’t: Lake Norman. “I love being able to get to Lake Norman [and the area parks like Latta Plantation] on the weekends and get there in five minutes,” says resident Ryan Kompanik. Though locals do have to battle I-77 traffic during rush hour, the promise of a LYNX line running through north Charlotte makes Huntersville even more attractive to those who work in uptown but want to live a suburban lifestyle.
Distance from Uptown: Fifteen miles, or about forty-five minutes during rush hour
Perks: Boasts some of CMS’s best schools. North Mecklenburg High came in at number four in this magazine's 2011 public schools rankings, while “Huntersville Elementary, Torrence Creek Elementary, and the new Barnette Elementary are some the best in all of CMS,” says Mike Carpino, a CMS teacher and broker with Lake & Town Realty.
Proximity to major highways: Within five to ten minutes of I-77 and I-485
Proximity to shopping: Just minutes to Birkdale and NorthLake Mall, thirty minutes to Concord Mills
5. Mount Holly
Mount Holly brands itself as Playful City USA, and with good reason; it features six parks and two recreational facilities. And if the city can’t host your favorite adventure, it’s likely within striking distance of a place that can. The U.S. National Whitewater Center is just across the Catawba River, and beautiful Crowders Mountain State Park is less than a thirty-minute drive. Naturally, the city’s prime location has become a major selling point. “In Mount Holly, you can be in the mountains in an hour or at the beach in three,” says Rita Farmer, a broker with Farmer’s Realty. The underlying appeal of Mount Holly can be summed up in one word: potential. While local tax rates aren’t unusually low, the area’s median home listing price of $115,000 means bargains are plentiful. Plus, the proactive Mount Holly Community Development Foundation is working to revitalize downtown by establishing it as a historic district. A thirteen-mile shoreline greenway along the Catawba River is also in the works.
Distance from Uptown: Twelve miles, or about thirty minutes during rush hour
Perks: The breathtaking Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens and the Schiele Museum of Natural History are each less than a thirty-minute drive.
Proximity to major highways: Ten minutes to 85 and 485.
Proximity to shopping areas: About thirty-five minutes to SouthPark mall, forty minutes to Concord Mills, one hour to Gaffney Premium Outlets in South Carolina
Don’t be fooled by Marvin’s horse country setting. Beyond the pastures and wooded drives are some of the best deals in Charlotte real estate. “There are some really big deals to be had in Marvin,” says Crowley. In 2007 the average home price for this tiny suburb just minutes from I-485, Stonecrest, Blakeney, and Ballantyne was a cool $665,500. In 2011 the average sales price dropped to $548,000, an 18 percent decrease. “There were some neighborhoods in Marvin that were significantly overpriced during the boom and a lot of folks couldn’t afford to live in their homes, so there have been a lot of foreclosures and short sales. People can purchase [five-thousand-square-foot homes on two-acre lots] in Marvin that they might not have been able to afford a few years back,” adds Crowley. Combine the sweet deals with Union County taxes, an impressive school system (in this magazine’s annual high schools ranking, Marvin Ridge High School was the top Union County school), and proximity to jobs in south Charlotte, and Marvin’s worth a second look.
Distance from Uptown: Twenty-three miles, or about forty-five minutes during rush hour
Perks: Union County taxes and schools, not to mention a lot more land for your money
Proximity to major highways: Five to ten minutes to 485
Proximity to shopping: Five minutes to Blakeney and Stonecrest, ten minutes to Ballantyne, and the Promenade on Providence
Think you can’t afford to live in a five-bedroom home on a two-acre lot in horse country? Think again. Waxhaw, in low-tax Union County, offers some serious bang for your buck. Plus, its prime location is just beyond the Mecklenburg County border and just off Providence Road, which was recently widened to accommodate the growth down south. For buyers, it gets even better. The housing downturn reduced the average home price by $100,000 since the peak in 2009. Eight award-winning public schools serving Waxhaw have been built within the past six years, and Carolinas Medical Center recently opened a new, state-of-the-art treatment facility. Combine those facts with the family-friendly atmosphere of the quaint shops, restaurants, antique stores, and art galleries in the delightful historic district and you’ve got a winner. “Historic downtown Waxhaw also hosts some great events, including Fourth of July and Christmas parades, along with arts and crafts festivals in spring and fall,” says Cathy Burns, owner of Cathy Burns Real Estate.
Distance from Uptown: Thirty miles, or about one hour during rush hour
Perks: Recreational opportunities abound in Waxhaw. Cane Creek Park features a 350-acre lake for boating, swimming, and fishing. Harvey Clay Nesbit Park contains a diverse array of ball fields, playgrounds, and picnic areas. There’s even a downtown skate park.
Proximity to major highways: Twenty minutes to I-485, twenty-five minutes to I-77
Proximity to major shopping destinations: Ten minutes to Blakeney, twenty minutes to Ballantyne, thirty-five minutes to SouthPark mall
8. Rock Hill
Yes, it’s about thirty miles from uptown—one of the farthest of any of the suburbs on this list. But here’s why it’s worthy: besides the low South Carolina taxes, cost of living, and homes; nearby employment hubs; proximity to I-77; and strong schools (“All of our schools are so strong that the private schools can’t survive,” says Amy Faulkenberry, a Realtor with Allen Tate), Rock Hill also boasts some serious green space. Thirty-one local parks and four rec centers scattered among 400 acres of natural space offer dozens of biking and running trails like the revamped Riverwalk along the Catawba River. “The Parks, Rec and Tourism Department is way ahead of its time,” adds Faulkenberry. “We have parks and sports complexes that serve every corner of the county.” Plus, Rock Hill residents can take advantage of nearby Winthrop University’s cultural scene, which includes theater, dance, and live music, usually at a fraction of the cost of performing arts venues in uptown.
Distance from Uptown: Thirty miles, or about fifty minutes during rush hour
Perks: Property diversity: “You can live on a lake or on thirty acres—there is such a wide range of residences,” says Heather Lamp, a broker with Real Estate Carolina Group.
Proximity to major highways: Five to ten minutes to I-77, twelve to fifteen minutes to I-485
Proximity to shopping: 10 minutes to Galleria Mall, which has national retailers and department stores
What’s Your Home Worth Now?
If there is a lesson from the past few years it’s this: there is economy, there are a lot of positive signs, including employment no quick turnaround for this real estate market. But the and the stock market.” Real estate analyst Karla Knotts agrees. good news is that things are looking better. According to the “The Charlotte residential real estate market continues to be Charlotte Regional Realtors Association’s January 2012 report, Union and York counties saw an increase in average sales prices since January 2011. And though Mecklenburg County as a whole did not realize the same gains, parts of town such as areas 3 (including part of Plaza Midwood), 7 (The Crossings, Berewick), and 9 (University Park, Huntersville) saw an increase in average sales price over the past year. “The market seems to be stabiliz- ing,” says Keith Thompson, a broker with Prudential Carolinas Realty. “We’ve seen in certain areas some bidding wars, which I haven’t seen since 2006 or 2007.”
“All signs point toward positive growth,” says Jim Crowley, a broker with Keller Williams. “When you look at the broad-range North Carolina affected by the fluctuations of consumer confidence. We have job growth and household formation—both drivers of real estate growth—but until the uncertainty is dissipated we will not [find] our ‘new’ normal.” She thinks the idea of waves of foreclosures still to come—which some economists predict—is overblown, at least for Charlotte.
Adds Thompson, “People are still buying and selling. But will it last, and how intense is this return going to be in the market? I don’t know.” To find out if your neighborhood’s making a come- back, check out our exclusive annual real estate chart which was compiled with the help of the Charlotte Regional Realtors Association.