The ranch house, the quintessential home of Baby Boomer youth is undergoing a renaissance, at least in rapidly growing areas of South Carolina.
A wave of ranch house construction took place in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the newest suburban areas of the South and West. Generally, ranch houses are one-story brick homes, commonly running about 1,500 square feet with three bedrooms, a carport or one-car garage.
Besides being the “cookie-cutter” houses of the era, the small rooms kept ranches out of favor for decades. Everything from closets and bathrooms to bedrooms and living rooms was smaller by today’s standards.
But as people, particularly young adults, move to the Palmetto State in droves, the ranch house has become a hot commodity. Homes that sold for $100,000 or less in the early 1990s are now fetching prices in the $300,000 to $600,000 range. Renovated and expanded ones can go for more, according to real estate agents.
The lure goes back to the oft-noted, three most important factors in real estate: location, location, location.
Because ranch houses were part of the first wave of suburban development, they typically are closer to cities and neighborhoods with amenities that Millennials, Gen Xers and hip Boomers seek, such as shops, restaurants, concert venues and large, established parks.
The houses also tend to have larger yards and more established trees, since construction disturbances have been minimal over the last 50 years. Another appeal is that ranch houses often are in communities without homeowner’s associations, which dictate strict regulations for design and upkeep.
But buyers typically aren’t interested in living in cramped, often dark rooms that their parents and grandparents lived in. Most buy with plans to renovate and expand, notably knocking out walls and expanding ceiling heights, repurposing bedrooms for walk-in closets or bathroom expansions, converting small garages into entertainment rooms or “man caves.”
Exterior work often includes painting the brick a light color.
Hot spots, not spots
Ranch renovations are in full swing in the Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, such as The Groves and “Old Mount Pleasant,” near the Coleman Boulevard corridor, West Ashley communities such as South Windermere, Avondale, Oak Forest and Wespanee Plantation, as well as the Hampton Park area on the peninsula.
In Columbia, ranch re-dos are taking place in Rosewood and Forest Acres, according to Realtor Cindy Luoma of Keller Williams.
“Younger folks want to be where the action is,” says Luoma, noting that ranch houses are becoming available as life-long residents move into assisted living facilities or pass away.
Luoma says the typical ranch house runs about 1,300-square feet and can be purchased for “under $200,000,” but that most will add 500-900 square feet to the homes, bringing values in the range of $350,000 to $450,000.
The craze doesn’t appear to be happening in Myrtle Beach, which has less of a centralized urban area and which didn’t experience the growth in the 1950s and 1960s that Columbia and Charleston had.
“I don’t see it happening here,” says Lori White, a broker associate with Re/Max Southern Shores in Myrtle Beach.
White says ranch homes in Myrtle Beach tend to be even smaller, about 900 square feet. While they sell in the low $100,000 range, any renovations would likely make them be the most expensive homes in the neighborhood.
Mid-century meets 21st century
By contrast, the metropolitan Charleston area offers a wide array of ranch home scenarios, from people paying a premium for renovated ones to residents buying fixer-uppers and planning a major overhaul or a series of renovations.
In one week, Lauren and Benji Anderson of Mount Pleasant will be moving the family of four, which includes two young children, out of a ranch house they bought in The Groves earlier this year for a renovation expected to take at least six months.
While Anderson, a Realtor at Carolina One in Mount Pleasant, didn’t want to disclose the purchase price, she said it was far more than the $70,000 that the house sold for in 1990, back when was 1,200 square feet.
The Andersons plan to add about 500 square feet to the 1,600-square-foot home and, like most, knock out a wall between the kitchen and living room.
Lauren says, “2,100 square feet is plenty” for her family, which includes two children, a Great Dane and three cats.
She learned through the experience of living in a 3,200-square-foot house in Brickyard Plantation that it was “too much house.”
She noted that while the family didn’t use about one-third of the house, it still required work to maintain it and it served as a place to collect stuff they didn’t need.
Plus she found herself spending too much time in her car. Anderson says the main lures of buying the ranch house in The Groves was its closer proximity to schools, her work, the commercial districts of Mount Pleasant and the Cooper River bridge. Also, she likes the size of the yard, which is nearly a sixth of an acre.
While she says The Groves is starting to fill up with great examples of ranch renovations, she still wouldn’t call it a trend.
“Most people typically upsize and want newer houses, but there are a lot of people who appreciate locations where you can get on your bike or walk to the bridge and be near schools. I like a big piece of property.”
Another feature of ranch houses that people like is that they tend to be solid structures.
“These little ranches have such solid bones to be able to work with,” says Suzie Smith, a sales associate at Carolina One who has lived in a ranch house in Mount Pleasant’s Greenwich Village since 2005.
Over the years, Smith has built a tiny house in the backyard, converted a front screened-in porch to a room, expanded the house from three bedrooms and one bathroom to four bedrooms and two and a half baths. Her master bedroom and bathroom is in an addition at the back of the house.
“One of my main goals in all the additions was that I didn’t want it to look like a different house. I wanted this to look like it could have been a part of the original house. I feel good about that. I like it a lot,” says Smith, who has no plans to sell or move. “I’m happy as a clam.”
But Smith notes that not everyone who buys a ranch is interested in keeping the structures intact. Some buy and demolish just enough to be grandfathered into old setback requirements and build around the remnants. Others simply buy, demolish and start over.
And some who are buying up ranch homes are builders intent on selling the properties as “spec homes,” filling the demand for people who don’t want the hassles and frustrations of renovations and expansions.
Embracing the modern
Part of the ranch craze of the 1950s and 1960s was modern touches of the time. Some who are drawn to ranch house renovations today like that and want to bring an update to it.
Allison Merrick admits that when she and her husband, Dan Bradley, were searching for a home, they weren’t necessarily looking for ranch, but rather had geographic parameters that kept them closer to downtown Charleston and better access for his commute to Daniel Island.
Two years ago, they found a ranch house in West Ashley’s Wespanee Plantation, which is adjacent to Old Towne Creek County Park and Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site park, that was in bad condition.
“When we came in, it smelled so bad. It was so beat up and so unloved. The carpet smelled like cigarette smoke, dogs and mildew. The kitchen cabinets were falling off the walls. It needed a roof and the air conditioning was not working,” recalls Merrick.
“We looked at a bunch of houses, including two that were in better condition … I told my husband that I couldn’t get the mid-century ranch out of my head. It came down to the fact that there were a lot of things we had on our list. The things you cannot change were intact. The things you could change, all of them needed work.”
Merrick doesn’t think they got a bargain on the house, but noted that because “both parties were unhappy, it was probably a fair price.”
The major renovation, which took nearly 10 months to complete, included tearing down a center wall between the living room and kitchen, vaulting the ceilings, complete rewiring, redoing the kitchen, fixing issues related to mold and creating her “dream pantry,” which helps keep the kitchen uncluttered.
Among the many personal touches that Merrick added to the house was getting relatives back in Louisiana to find a starburst light fixture that was in her grandparent’s ranch house. She had an electrician rewire it and, amazingly, found replacement bulbs for it. The fixture hangs in the interior entry way.
She also installed modern, Danish-made lighting fixtures in the kitchen.
The Western Sizzler
Merrick drew inspiration from neighbors, Thom and Gretchen McKellar Penney, who 20 years ago bought the ranch house originally built for the developer of Wespanee and have since completed five renovations to the house.
The Penneys, who are both architects, started with a major overhaul of a house that Gretchen says “looked like a Western Sizzler” in 1997.
In all, they basically extended the roof out, got rid of florescent lighting fixtures and a bounty of fans, renovated the kitchen, installed heart pine floors, and added a family room that helped the home take advantage of views of Oldtown Creek, the Ashley River and, in the distance, The Citadel.
The latest efforts including removing a circular driveway and put in a new hardscape and an outdoor sculpture, created by fellow Clemson graduate and modern sculptor Bob Doster of Lancaster.
“This is our forever home,” says Gretchen.
By contrast, some ranch house lovers opt for houses that already have been renovated and updated.
Susan and Steve Appelbaum bought a ranch house, originally built by developer J.C. Long on the Isle of Palms in 1963, nearly two years ago from a couple in North Carolina who updated it as a vacation home. The Appelbaums moved from a ranch house in Summerville.
While they like the mostly ground-level home, they have been somewhat concerned about flooding. However, they were spared any damage from flooding events caused by hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew and Irma the past two years.
“Except for (Hurricane) Hugo, this house has never been flooded,” says Steve.
Susan says the big draw for her was the kitchen. A garage that was converted into an entertainment room, or what Susan calls Steve’s “man cave,” includes a bar, fireplace and large screen TV.
Like many on the island, the Appelbaum’s have a “flood room” in the event of a major hurricane, to take belongings that they don’t want damaged. The Appelbaums renovated that room into a master bedroom and bathroom
Like the Penneys, the Appelbaums seem content with their painted ranch.
“It’s cozy, coastal looking and casual. When people come over, they feel like they are home. When they come in, they are surprised because it seems so spacious,” says Susan. “We sit out on the patio and people will drive by and say, ‘I love your house.’ We do, too.”