What is the Real Cost of Living in Charleston, SC?

What is the Real Cost of Living in Charleston, SC?

  • Michelle Almeyda Wiedemuth
  • 04/5/24

Charleston, the crown jewel of South Carolina, has charmed residents and visitors alike for centuries. With its cobblestone streets, historic landmarks, and warm ocean breezes, it’s no wonder many people wish to call Charleston home. But beyond its alluring facade and Southern charm, what does it truly cost to live in this iconic city? Let's dive deep into the actual cost of living in Charleston, SC, examining everything from housing to the little pleasures that make life in this coastal city so delightful.

Market trends and dynamics in Charleston:

The real estate market in Charleston, SC, during the first quarter of 2024, has exhibited several trends. The average home value in Charleston saw an 8.6% increase over the past year, with homes selling quickly, typically going pending in around 21 days. The market dynamics show a strong demand for housing, buoyed by job growth and limited supply, which has pushed prices upwards.

Specific home sales data for Charleston reflects this upward trend in prices and market activity. For example, a 7-bedroom home sold for $1.9 million, and a 3-bedroom property went for $775,000 in March 2024. These transactions indicate a competitive market, with some homes selling slightly under list price, while others matched the listing price exactly​​.

Single-family homes in Charleston sold for an average of $777,500 and spent 84 days on the market. For condos and townhomes, the average selling price was $560,000, with these properties staying on the market for about 76 days. These figures underscore a relatively active and robust market in Charleston.​

What factors contribute to Charleston’s strong economy?

Charleston's strong economy is supported by a combination of factors, including diverse and thriving industries, significant business investments, and innovative growth strategies. Key industries fueling Charleston's economic vitality include aerospace, with Boeing being a prominent player; automotive, represented by companies like Mercedes-Benz Vans; IT and defense, highlighted by the presence of SPAWAR and numerous defense contractors; and life sciences, supported by more than 50 development and research labs and the Medical University of South Carolina. These sectors are complemented by energy and technology industries, contributing to a well-rounded and robust economic landscape​​.

Cost of living

The cost of living in Charleston is 4% higher than the state average and 2% lower than the national average. Charleston housing is 2% cheaper than the U.S. average, while utilities are about 17% pricier. Regarding necessities such as food and clothing, groceries are around 6% less in Charleston than in the rest of the country, while clothing costs around 6% less.

Healthcare services such as doctor check-ups and dentistry cost 6% less here than the U.S. average. At the same time, non-necessary expenses such as entertainment and grooming services are 6% cheaper in Charleston.

Robust job market

Aerospace, automotive, defense, and technology continue to reign as top industries in the region, with the busy Port of Charleston serving as a key driver for the economic engine of the state. Two main developments are the expansion of Boeing’s production facility and the addition of a Volvo factory.

Several colleges and universities call Charleston home, bolstering innovation and research opportunities. On the upswing with millennials, Charleston is becoming a tech hub, allowing local college graduates to stay in the city and make Charleston their permanent home. Moreover, of South Carolina’s 66 most populous cities and towns, half are within 30 minutes of Charleston.

Low taxes

While Charleston's charm and historic beauty are undeniable, potential residents and property owners stand to gain from a favorable tax environment. In general, South Carolina has low property taxes, ranking ninth-lowest nationwide. It’s very affordable to live and work.

South Carolina state tax has some definite pros, such as low property taxes compared to most other states. It is also a state where you'll pay less income tax this year. That's because the tax rate for the highest income tax bracket was reduced by 0.5% for 2023. Not all state taxes are low, though. For example, the tax on gasoline in South Carolina is higher than in many states.

Taxpayers 65 or older can exclude up to $15,000 of qualified retirement income from South Carolina's taxable income. The same taxpayers benefit from the state homestead exemption that exempts the first $50,000 of a property’s fair market value from local property taxes. South Carolina has no estate or inheritance taxes.

How do Charleston’s prices compare to major cities?

Charleston has long been a popular destination. The city’s rich history, architectural beauty, and coastal location make it a prime tourist spot. Lately, Charleston is gaining a national profile as home buyers move there en masse from the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. More and more buyers are finding Charleston less expensive than their former cities.

New York City

Based on a $100,000 salary, Charleston is about 60% less expensive than Manhattan. Part of that discrepancy is due to average rent and mortgage payments. However, South Carolina is markedly less costly in transportation, food, entertainment, and healthcare. Luxury buyers are finding $2.5 million buys more house in Charleston than in more densely populated cities.


Homeowners leaving Boston for Charleston figure to save about 35% of their expenses. Transportation, entertainment, and healthcare each average over 20% less expensive in Charleston than in Boston.


The cost of living in Charleston is about 19% lower than in Chicago. Food costs are about the same, while Charleston residents save significantly on transportation, entertainment, and healthcare.

Los Angeles

Homeowners on a $100,000 salary stand to save 35% of their funds by moving from Los Angeles to Charleston. Transportation, entertainment, and healthcare run much less expensive in Charleston than in Southern California.

San Francisco

Amazingly, San Francisco is nearly twice as expensive as Charleston. After accounting for their home purchase, San Francisco transplants save over 20% on every main expense category.

What are some alternatives to Downtown Charleston?

The population of the Greater Charleston area, or the Charleston-North Charleston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), has grown significantly, reaching over 830,000 people. This growth rate is three times faster than the national average in the United States​​.

In particular, the region’s coastal location provides different peninsular and island habitats. Homeowners interested in the Charleston area can shop around to find the perfect place.

Kiawah Island

Kiawah Island, located off the coast of South Carolina, is known for its natural beauty, pristine beaches, and luxurious lifestyle. Located amidst lush maritime forests and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the island is celebrated for its world-class golf courses, including the famed Ocean Course that hosted the 2012 PGA Championship. With an emphasis on environmental preservation, residents of Kiawah Island enjoy coexisting with the island's diverse wildlife and ecosystems. Single-family homes typically range from $1.1 million to occasionally eight figures.

Seabrook Island

Seabrook Island, situated just a few miles southwest of Kiawah Island, is appreciated by residents for its stunning landscape and relaxed atmosphere, capturing the essence of a serene island retreat. The island is renowned for its equestrian facilities, championship golf courses, and a vibrant marina, catering to a range of recreational interests. The community fosters a close-knit ambiance with social clubs, events, and exclusive amenities, creating a sense of camaraderie among its residents. Single-family homes on Seabrook Island range from upper six figures to $6 million.

Isle of Palm / Sullivans Island

The beach is within a short walk or bike ride, no matter where you live. Restaurants and shops are popular for both island residents and visitors. Isle of Palm is known for its large beachfront homes and is also home to the Wild Dunes Resort, a renowned vacation destination on the southeast coast. Condos and townhouses are available for purchase. Single-family homes generally range from $850,000 to over $10 million.

Daniel Island

Daniel Island offers diverse living options, from single-family homes to condos and townhouses. With the Cooper and Wando Rivers on either side, the master-planned community is an award-winning example of new urbanism. South of 526, you will find an urban-suburban feel, whereas north of 526, the homes will have more land surrounding them and are closer to the exclusive Daniel Island country club. Just a short drive to Mount Pleasant and downtown Charleston, Daniel Island is especially popular with families. Single-family homes generally range from $800,000 to over $5 million.

Mount Pleasant

Nestled along the scenic coast of South Carolina, Mount Pleasant beckons with its charming Lowcountry allure and vibrant community spirit. As a sought-after destination for both residents and newcomers, this coastal gem offers a lifestyle that seamlessly blends history, modernity, and the natural beauty of the region. Whether you're drawn to the historic district, waterfront properties, or the thriving local scene, Mount Pleasant has something for every discerning homeowner. Single-family homes range from the upper six figures to over $5 million.

Seeking Charleston real estate?

Michelle Wiedemuth is a top-rated real estate expert specializing in Lowcountry real estate, particularly in Seabrook Island, Charleston, and Kiawah Island. As a Seabrook Island full-time resident, Michelle knows the ins and outs of the local market and can use her expertise to help you find and secure the coastal home of your dreams. Ready to start your journey to homeownership? Contact Michelle today.

Work With Michelle

Michelle knows the complexities of relocating and understands the importance of finding the right location for her clients. Whether you are considering Seabrook or the Charleston area, she is uniquely positioned to help you find your dream home or property.

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