How to Be Your Own Inspector When House Hunting

Seeing a home for the first time, buyers can be distracted with shiny new appliances, and gleaming stone counters. Those items count for a lot, but that’s not the most important thing to review at a showing. I want to show you how to be your own inspector, BUT I would never advise you not to also engage a professional home inspector for any home buying purchase. And, it’s not just buyers who get this advice, I often advise sellers to also hire an inspector so they can avoid repair surprises once they ratify a contract. 

Notice the Filters and Vents

Firstly, I always look carefully at all of the vents and filters in a home. It’s a quick and easy sign of what to expect throughout the home. Their maintenance, or lack thereof, can indicate generally how well the homeowners have cared for the property. Replacing filters on a regular basis can indicate an approach to not deferring maintenance and ensuring that mechanical systems are working properly.

Your Nose Knows

Another inspection skill I employ is the smell test. I’m always suspicious when I am greeted in the foyer by a plug – in air freshener.  Likewise, if bathrooms are awash in scented candles, I don’t trust that they are not covering up moldy or musty odors. Houses should not require additional scents for showings – I smell a red flag and not a pleasant aroma.


Look Up

When touring a house, I always look up. Ceilings can reveal prior leaks and poorly repainted spots can show evidence of damage that may or may not be on the owner’s disclosure. In my own home, we had a leak from a clogged HVAC line that spotted the ceilings below. This was not a roof leak but we repainted because the stains were unsightly. I don’t plan on selling my home, but when the time comes, the leak will be disclosed in writing. Leaks are not always permanent damage, but it is important to know how and when the water intrusion occurred.

Gutter Check

It may be hard to see at a showing, but if you can get a look at the gutters and downspouts, it’s yet another indication of how the home has been maintained. Blocked drainage can cause a multitude of water issues here in the Lowcountry, from mold and mildew, to foundation damage, and wood rot – and rot is just the invitation termites are looking to find.


General Deferred Maintenance

Be sure to look at baseboards, cabinet handles, and faucets. Basically anything that gets daily use and even abuse. On the exterior look at the deck condition, door maintenance, overgrown vegetation, and other signs of neglect. Keeping up with projects small and large can give an indication of the what you can’t see. 

An inspector can’t see through walls and floors, or predict what may have failed to be disclosed. A good inspector can however, measure moisture levels, see that systems are operational, and point out long term issues that may arise down the road.

– Terry Bell-Aby, Realtor®
Mobile  508-627-2988  |

8 Things to Remember During a Virtual Home Tour in Charleston, SC

Virtual home tours help people find their perfect home or vacation rental, whether they’re searching locally or across the country. Touring a home virtually allows you to get a better feel for the property than photos alone and is an excellent way to find your dream home. 

People who are relocating or looking for a vacation home can easily browse available properties from the comfort of their own home instead of traveling and viewing them in person. While virtual home tours have existed for years, their popularity and use took off during the pandemic. 

More real estate agents and interested buyers use virtual tours as a must-have tool in the real estate market. Buyers can quickly view new listings in popular neighborhoods without having to take time away from work or their families. It makes shopping for Mount Pleasant homes for sale easier and more efficient.

Learn what to expect from your virtual home tour and tips to make your virtual home buying process successful. 

  1. Real Estate Agents Have Different Definitions of Virtual Tours

Some real estate agents have been using virtual tours in their work for years, while others more recently began using them for home sales. This means the type of tour available or the quality of the virtual tour can differ between properties. 

A virtual tour may consist of 360° photos, a three-dimensional tour, a virtual stage or online walk-throughs. Virtual open houses and showings are sometimes also available.

360° tours and digital renderings

Tours that offer 360° photos use a camera that captures a full view of each room. You’ll be able to move the image up, down and fully around to see every angle of the room. You can also zoom in to look at details more closely. Many real estate agents piece these photos together so you can travel through the house and get a feel for the layout and flow of the space. 

There’s also software available to take these 360° photos and develop a three-dimensional property rendering. It can resemble a dollhouse, with you viewing it from the outside looking in. These are called 3D or three-dimensional tours.

Some real estate agents use other software programs to stage their properties virtually. This allows them to virtually decorate spaces that would be empty. They can add digital furniture or decorative items to show how things fit in a room and give you a better idea of what the space would feel like. 

It also allows them to add digital paint color or wallpaper to walls, so be aware that what you see may not be what you’re getting.

Virtual home tour - online walkthrough

Online or virtual walk-throughs

Online walk-throughs provide a video tour of the home. In a walk-through, the agent may use a smartphone, tablet or camera to record a video as they guide the viewer from room to room and point out details or mention features. 

Online walk-throughs are typically recorded in advance and are available on-demand. They’re often called virtual showings or a virtual open house when done via live stream.

Virtual showings and open houses

Virtual showings must be scheduled and are one-on-one virtual tours that mimic an in-person tour. You may start with the home’s exterior before moving inside and following the flow of the property’s floor plan. These showings may be done over Skype, FaceTime or other video chat platforms. 

A virtual showing allows you to ask the realtor questions and get more information than other forms of virtual tours provide. They can tell you about the neighborhood or point out non-visual details of the home, such as creaky floors or strange odors.

Virtual open houses are less structured and allow interested buyers to join group video tours and chats through social media and other platforms online. You may not get your questions answered or be shown all the home details during an open house.

  1. Figure Out Your Needs and Wants First

Before you start looking at homes for sale, make a list of your must-have needs and the features or amenities you’d like your home to have. Your needs are the make-or-break items that allow you to filter the homes you’re looking for on a multiple listing service

This could mean looking for a minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms, depending on the size of your family. People who love to cook or bake may need a kitchen with more counter space and use this to dismiss homes with smaller kitchens quickly. Someone who collects cars may require a three- or four-bay garage to fit their lifestyle.

Your wants are any feature of the home you’d like to have but could live without. This includes wanting a pool, a new build, a fully renovated home or your preferred home style or neighborhood. Any potential new home must meet your needs, but the right home for you doesn’t have to contain all your wants. 

Virtual showing - what you are looking for

You may need to look at home listings to get an idea of what you like and don’t like to create your list. Once you have these things in mind, you can determine if a property listed online is worth looking into further.

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  1. Narrow Down Your Options 

While creating a list of your wants and needs allows you to narrow the pool of homes you’re looking at, it still leaves you with many options. Use the virtual tours available to help further narrow down the homes you’re interested in. 

You may love the photos of a home but hate its flow once you see a virtual tour. Or you may notice details in a 360-degree tour, such as popcorn ceilings that you couldn’t see before. 

The more homes you can rule in or out through virtual tours, the less you’ll have to decide between. If you are stuck between two or three houses, consider having your real estate agent do a video walkthrough of your top options. 

While some people are comfortable buying homes through virtual tours alone, you may want to visit each of your final contenders in person before making an offer on a home. 

  1. See if There’s a Floorplan Available

If you’re attending a one-on-one video walkthrough or a virtual open house, see if you can access the floorplan of the home before your tour begins. It can be hard to determine the layout of spaces when you’re not touring it in person. You may not have a good understanding of how rooms are connected or where they are in relation to other spaces inside the home and outside. 

Floor plans are drawn to scale and show all the elements inside a home from above. The floor plan provides the dimensions of each room and may list information about the ceiling heights. A printable version of the floor plan is even better because it allows you to refer back to it during your tour. You can even use it to take notes or jot down questions during your virtual walkthrough. 

  1. Take Notes During Your Tour

While virtually touring homes you’re interested in is fun, you also need to take it seriously by taking notes while attending the event. Taking notes during your tour allows you to remember important details later on that you’ll use to compare multiple properties. 

Keep paper and a pen or pencil on hand so you can write down details you won’t find in the listing. This includes the ages of appliances, how old the roof is, where electrical outlets are located and more.

Taking notes also lets you remember non-visual details and impressions your realtor shares during your tour. You won’t want to forget if an area of the home’s floor sags or is uneven. You may also want to note your general impressions of the house after the tour and whether it will need home repairs or updates soon. 

Virtual tour - what can't be captured
  1. Remember What a Virtual Tour Can’t Capture 

Virtual tours are a great way to get visual impressions of the home, but they fail to capture all the details. You’ll miss out on experiencing the home and neighborhood’s personality. You also won’t sense the non-visual aspects of the house, including smells or noises. 

You may not realize the historic downtown Charleston rental you’re looking at is next to a busy restaurant or bar, which could keep you up at night, or that your perfect family home is located in a poorly rated school district.

Once you have a list of top contenders, research the properties to find out the information a virtual tour doesn’t provide. Look up the address on an online map to see what the neighborhood looks like and if it has stores, restaurants, and other nearby amenities. This also lets you see if the property is on a noisy, busy street or in a more family-friendly location. 

Research information about the school district the home is in and the neighborhood’s history. This will give you more information about the socioeconomic level of the community, what types of crime occur, if any, and the property value history of the home.

You can also ask your real estate agent to be your ears and nose during a one-on-one virtual walk-through of the home. Ask them to point out any odors from pets or smokers. They may hear if there are loud neighbors or traffic noise problems as well.

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  1. Don’t Forget to Tour the Outside

If you’re only looking at a 360-degree tour of the home’s interior, you may miss important details about the outside of the property. Even one-on-one walkthroughs with a realtor may not cover the home’s exterior in-depth. You’ll want to know the condition of the home’s exterior and what the landscaping is like and get a good feel for the size of the yard. 

Make sure your virtual tour includes all outdoor areas such as porches, decks, patios, sheds and any outbuilding on the property. You’ll want to check out the condition of the home’s siding or brick, the roof, all sidewalks and the driveway. Exterior elements can be expensive to fix or replace, so you’ll want to be aware of any issues before deciding to make an offer on a home. 

If the home has extensive landscaping or a large yard, it may be more than you can keep up with on your own. Landscaping costs should factor into your budget for a new home. Like pools or hot tubs, other amenities require regular upkeep and maintenance. If you’re looking to put in a pool, make sure there’s enough room on the property to do so.

  1. Make a List of Questions

Develop a list of questions to ask your realtor before your virtual tour for each property. You may want specific details or answers to questions after viewing pictures of the home. Creating your list ahead of time allows you to brainstorm and think of what information you’re missing. You can also ask questions that come up during your virtual tour or write questions down to ask at the end. 

Your real estate agent’s job is to provide you with the information you need, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s common to ask for information about room size, the age of the home and appliances and questions about the neighborhood. If you’re looking at Kiawah Island real estate, ask about flood zones or hurricane risks based on your location.

Your real estate agent is experienced and can provide a lot of valuable insight. They may be able to answer your questions immediately, while others require more time and research. Don’t buy a home without getting your questions answered first.

Your Virtual Tour Is Just the First Step

Virtual tours are a way to keep real estate agents and buyers safe during the ongoing pandemic. It cuts down foot traffic in homes and in-person contact between individuals, which is good for the health of the homeowners and everyone involved in the real estate transaction. 

Virtual tours are also a great way to narrow down the list of homes you’re interested in. You save time during the initial phase of home buying.

Some people may feel confident enough to put an offer in on a home after a virtual tour, while others see the virtual tour as the first step in the process. It’s normal to want to see the property in person before making an offer. 

Virtual home tours - home inspection

Buyers need to follow additional steps after their virtual tour. It’s important to have a home inspection done to detect any potential problems with the home. You may also want to complete a pest inspection to ensure the property doesn’t have an issue with termites or other insects.

Start Touring Homes in Charleston 

If you’re looking for homes in the Charleston area, consider working with Dunes Properties. Our real estate agents know and love Charleston and the Lowcountry. We’ve been helping local residents and newcomers find the primary residence, vacation home or rental property of their dreams since 1989. Contact us today to find out how we can best serve you.

10 First-Time Home Buyer Tips in Charleston, SC

Purchasing a new home is exhilarating, but as a first-time home buyer, the process can also feel a bit overwhelming. Homebuying tasks, such as preparing your finances and shopping local real estate listings, can feel challenging, but with a first-time home buyers’ roadmap to follow and support from an experienced realtor, they are much less intimidating. 

If you are moving to South Carolina from out of state or buying a home after living in one of the city’s idyllic historic downtown Charleston rentals, consider these ten first-time home buyer tips when purchasing your first property in Charleston, South Carolina. 

first time home buyer - credit score
  1. Start Saving

One of the best actions you can take before buying your first home is saving early. Most conventional mortgages require a down payment of around 6%, but some mortgage loans only require around 3% of the purchase price. For a $250,000 home, that’s approximately $15,000 or $7,500 respectively. 

In addition to your down payment, you’ll need to set aside money for closing costs. Closing costs can run another 3% to 6% of the home’s purchase price

You may also need to put up 1% to 3% earnest money to buy your first home. Earnest money is similar to a deposit. The buyer pays earnest money before closing to protect the seller if they back out of the deal. 

To meet these financial obligations, it is a good idea to begin saving at least two years before you think you’ll purchase your first home. 

  1. Boost Your Credit

A year or two before buying your first home, start boosting your credit score. A high credit score can help you gain pre-approval for a mortgage loan and increase your chances of being offered a low interest rate on your mortgage. 

Pre-approval and a low interest rate can reduce the total cost of buying a home and make the closing process smoother. So it is essential to get your credit in the best shape possible before purchasing a home. 

To improve your credit score, start by obtaining a copy of your credit history. Review the information in the report to ensure that all the information is accurate. If you find any accounts that are not yours or report inaccurate data, go through the dispute process to remove them from your credit history.

Address any issues that lower your credit score, such as late payments or high balances. Generally, lenders won’t approve you for a mortgage if your debt-to-income ratio is higher than around 43%, so work toward lowering this number to boost your credit score. 

If you don’t have an extensive credit history, consider opening one line of credit or credit card that you can pay off each month. This helps you build your credit history and gives you a high credit score, enabling you to gain pre-approval when it comes time to start applying for a mortgage loan.  

Find Your Ideal Charleston Home for Sale

  1. Develop a Budget

As you approach buying a home for the first time, you must develop a realistic budget. It is easy for new home buyers to feel excited about shopping for their first home and overshoot what they can realistically afford. To avoid maxing out your finances and getting a house that you may struggle to afford long-term, carefully approach your home-buying budget. 

Your budget should include a realistic estimate of the type of home you can afford. A good rule is to look at homes with mortgages that cost 28% or less of your monthly income. For example, if you bring home $6,000 a month, look for a home with a monthly mortgage payment of $1,680 or less. When developing your budget, use a mortgage calculator online to estimate the cost of various homes. 

You should also consider property taxes, homeowner’s association fees, homeowner’s insurance and potential repair costs when developing your budget. Building these costs into your overall budget can help you stay within your price range when you start looking for homes and ensure you avoid buying a home that will put you in a tough financial situation. 

  1. Know What You Want

Before you start working with a local realtor to find your first home, it is helpful to decide exactly what you are looking for. Having a list of desired home features, acceptable locations, and budgetary guidelines to follow during the home-buying process can help you narrow your search and move into your ideal home faster. 

In addition to price, consider the following factors to help you narrow down what you want in your first home: 

  • Size

What size home do you need? If you plan on starting or growing your family, you may want to look for homes that allow you the space you’ll need for kids. Consider the cost of upkeep of a large home versus a house with more modest square footage and whether you and your family need the extra space or whether too much space may become a hassle. 

  • Location

Think about where you want to live. Downtown Charleston can offer you a charming, modern experience if you enjoy bustling city life. However, if you prefer nature and relaxation, you may choose to search nature-conscious Kiawah Island real estate listings instead. 

  • Features

Develop a list of features that you’d like your first home to have, and decide which of those features is non-negotiable. Do you have to have a two-car garage? A fenced-in backyard? Two full bathrooms? Know what types of features you are willing to compromise on and which you absolutely cannot live without to guide your search. 

  1. Shop Mortgage Lenders

When you are ready to start seriously looking for your first home, take some time to shop around for the best mortgage lender. Ideally, you want to find a lender that offers you a reasonable rate on your mortgage and has a reliable reputation. Most mortgage terms are between 15 and 30 years, so choosing a lender you trust is vital. 

As you research lending institutions, consider various types of lenders. You can look at traditional banks, credit unions, or online lenders specializing in mortgage loans. Once you’ve settled on a few options, look for specifics on their mortgage practices. 

Speak to a representative to determine how long the application process may take, how your terms are decided, and whether they participate in first-time home buyer programs. Then, compare their interest rate offers, fees, and down payment requirements to make the best choice for your situation. 

  1. Apply for Pre-Approval

Apply for pre-approval once you’ve decided on a mortgage lender to speed up the home-buying process. Pre-approval is a process that allows your lender to vet your financial information and provide you with a pre-approved mortgage amount that you can use to guide your property search. 

Pre-approval not only gives you an upper limit to the home price range you can afford, but it also gives you an advantage with sellers when you find the home you want. If you discover your ideal home and want to move fast, you can make an offer and present your pre-approval to the seller. 

This shows them that your finances are in order and you already have funding for the purchase. This can tip a seller in your favor and help you win your first home over other bidders. 

first time home buyer - local realtor
  1. Work with a Local Realtor

Working with a local realtor can significantly improve your property-buying experience as a first-time home buyer. Real estate agents that know the local market can simplify your home search and help you find the right property that meets all your needs and budgetary price points. 

If you are looking at homes in downtown Charleston, the right realtor can use their industry contacts to discover unique property options that aren’t known in the broader market. If you are interested in single-family Mount Pleasant homes for sale, your local agent can use their specialized knowledge of the area to find you the right property at the right price. 

A local realtor can also help you avoid potentially problematic homes and walk you through the home-buying process so you get into your new home at a fair price. With years of experience, the right realtor can pinpoint issues that you may overlook as a new home buyer, such as structural damage or problems with electrical or plumbing systems. They can make sure you use a well-respected company for your home inspection.

  1. Move Fast and Smart

When you find a home, you love within your price range, moving fast as a new home buyer is essential. Your ideal house can disappear from the market overnight in a seller’s market. This creates a sense of urgency that makes moving fast on your perfect home necessary.

If you have prepared your finances, know what you want and work with a talented local real estate agent, you should find yourself in an excellent position to make a timely offer. 

Although moving fast is vital in the current market, it is equally important that you take the time to ensure you are making the right choice. Never allow the sense of urgency as a new home buyer to push you into making an offer on a home you are unsure about. Even if you don’t get the first home you put an offer on, another potentially better offer will turn up. 

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  1. Get a Home Inspection

If the seller accepts your offer on the home, you’ll enter into the final phase of buying your first property. This phase includes entering into a sales contract with the seller that sets forth contingencies that each side must meet for the home sale to go through. One of the most critical contingencies in this contract is the home inspection. 

A home inspection allows you to hire a company to inspect the property to determine what types of repairs are necessary. A typical home inspection includes a visual examination of the property, including essential elements, such as the plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems, roof, and foundation. 

If the inspector finds any issues, you can negotiate with the seller to pay for costly repairs or lower the home price. In some cases, you may even be able to back out of the sale. 

You must never waive the home inspection contingency fee, especially as a new home buyer. If you are buying your first home as a long-term investment or a place to settle down with your family, buying the property without first looking it over by a professional inspection company is unwise.  

  1. Remain Open and Flexible

As a new home buyer, one of the best things you can do is remain open and flexible during the process. Buying a house can be stressful, especially if you run into a situation where you don’t get the first home you put an offer on. Some ups and downs occur when buying a home, so the more flexible you are, the more enjoyable the experience will feel. 

While you will benefit from having a shortlist of non-negotiables, such as your upper price limit, home inspection contingency and a few home features, it is essential to remain open to properties that you may not have considered initially. 

For example, if you prefer Charleston, but your realtor finds a perfect property in nearby Mount Pleasant, it may be worth viewing the home to determine if it can work for your needs. If you find a home that requires a bit more work than you bargained for but is otherwise ideal, be open to negotiating on a lower price and renovating. 

Also, consider flexibility on elements like the closing date or non-significant contingencies that can get you into the property you want, even if you have to wait a bit longer than preferred. 

home buying process - moving in

Enjoy Your First Home-Buying Experience

Although buying your first home can feel overwhelming, you can use these tips to create a smooth transition into homeownership. By preparing your finances ahead of time, working with an experienced local real estate agent, and knowing what you want before making an offer on a home, you can enjoy your first home-buying experience and end up in a Charleston property that you’ll love for years to come.

Best Barbecue in Charleston, SC – A Meatlover’s Guide

When you think of traditional Down South cookin’, we’re pretty sure barbecue comes to mind. Although there are a handful of different styles, South Carolina has mastered its barbecue technique, leaving locals and visitors full and satisfied no matter what joint they choose to frequent. 

When you visit historic Charleston, SC, you’ll find yourself immersed in a barbecue haven. You’ll discover some of the best barbecue in Charleston, which is also known for its eclectic, world-class culinary scene. A trip to the Holy City wouldn’t be complete without a stop at one of the many outstanding barbecue restaurants. We’ve rounded up a few of the top choices, so you can pick which one you’d like to try, or, if you’re hungry and in the mood, visit them all!

Your Guide to the Best Barbecue in Charleston

Lewis Barbecue

Opened in 2016, Lewis Barbecue was the creation of Texas pitmaster John Lewis, who relocated from Austin, TX to Charleston, SC in 2015. Since the age of 18, Lewis has been completely infatuated by barbecue, learning how to use a New Braunfels smoker he received as a birthday gift from his parents. 

Since then, Lewis has truly perfected his craft, bringing his brisket brilliance to the Lowcountry. Broken down by “meats,” “sandwiches,” and “sides,” the menu at Lewis Barbecue is surely one to be drooled over, making it some of the best barbecue in Charleston. 

Take your pick between sliced or chopped prime beef brisket, pulled pork, turkey breast, pork spare ribs, or the unique Texas hot guts—a traditional homemade sausage. Pair your meats with one of the equally incredible ideas, from potato salad and coleslaw to pinto beans and collard greens. Don’t worry! Mac and cheese made the menu, too.

Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ

Charlestonians long-awaited the arrival of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ to the Holy City. For years, people would eagerly make the two-hour drive up to Hemingway, SC for a taste of the Scott family’s famous barbecue. Since the time he was in middle school, Scott was helping out at his family’s joint, learning the art of smoking and roasting a whole hog—something that has died out as a method of cooking in the world of barbecue. In 2017, after 25 years of working at his family’s restaurant in Hemingway, Rodney Scott decided to pack up and head to Charleston.

He teamed up with friend and restaurant group CEO Nick Pihakis to open what is now one of the most popular and top-rated barbecue restaurants in the city. Although we always recommend taking the time to visit the restaurant and sit down to enjoy your meal, if you just can’t get enough of this barbecue, you can swing through their drive-thru and get a pulled pork sandwich to go.

Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ

At Home Team BBQ, the food is delicious and the party is always going on. A popular destination for day drinking, the downtown location offers a large outdoor patio, so patrons can dig into their ribs or meat platter while enjoying the beautiful Charleston weather. 

If you’re looking for a good time during your trip to historic Charleston, SC, Home Team is the place to go for tasty, down-South barbecue and a good time. Indulge in the Game Changer for a frozen drink experience like no other. Seriously, we can’t even drink more than one of these babies, but it’s the perfect cocktail to sip during the heat of a Charleston summer. 

Although Home Team’s downtown location is close to everything you’ll want to see during your visit, you can also check out the location in West Ashley or Sullivan’s Island if you’re headed to the beach for the day. 

Poogan’s Smokehouse

The sister restaurant to Poogan’s Porch, this establishment focuses solely on South-Carolina-style barbecue offering hickory- and cherry-smoked meats that have been cooked to perfection. One of our favorite items on the menu is the smoked wings, but you can’t go wrong with any of the meat platters, from racks of St. Louis ribs to pulled pork and chicken. 

The menu also features dozens of other great traditional Southern dishes like boiled peanuts—a must-try if you’ve never had them before, fried pickled okra, and pimento cheese fritters, to name a few. 

Swig & Swine

With four different locations throughout the Lowcountry, Swig & Swine is a funky barbecue spot that cooks their food low and slow to encourage the meats to soak up all the juices and truly infuse each piece with that smoky taste their customers love. Owner Anthony Dibernardo had decades-worth of culinary experience prior to opening his barbecue joint in 2013, working in kitchens at the Kiawah Island Resort, Mustard Seed and Rita’s, among others. 

When you decide to dine with Swig & Swine, you’ll also be able to choose from a selection of local craft beers that pair perfectly with their barbecue dishes. Get a taste of the local breweries, and then maybe consider making a visit to your favorite during your stay in Charleston. 

Melvin’s BBQ

A staple in the barbecue world of Charleston, Melvin’s is a no-frills establishment that brings customers dozens of delicious options on their menu. Though the food is outstanding, this location is more unassuming than some of its fellow BBQ joints in the area. But, Melvin’s history in the Lowcountry is rich. 

When the original owner of the restaurant, Melvin Bessinger, was just a ten-year-old boy, he learned the recipe for his father’s secret mustard-based barbecue sauce that would eventually lead him on a journey to start his own cafe and help his father with a separate barbecue joint in Holly Hill, SC. Eventually, in 1955, Melvin and his brother moved to Charleston to open Bessinger’s BBQ in the Piggy Park Drive-In on Savannah Highway. 

After working together for a while, the brothers decided to split ways, and Melvin took his own cooking to the other side of the city to open Melvin’s. Decades later, the business still remains in the family, with Melvin’s son David taking a more prominent role by creating new recipes and integrating different smoking and barbecue techniques to retain their title as one of the best places for authentic South Carolina barbecue. 

Bessinger’s BBQ

The sister restaurant to Melvin’s BBQ, Bessinger’s also has a long family history. Much like his brother Melvin, Thomas Bessinger began learning the art of barbecue at the age of 14 in his dad’s restaurant, Eat at Joe’s. When he relocated to Charleston with his brother, Bessinger’s was born. Now, Thomas works with two of his three sons to keep the restaurant operating and re-inventing what good barbecue means. 

If you’re a true lover of the meats, you may want to plan a trip to Bessinger’s and Melvin’s and experience the unique taste of this family’s barbecue style.

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint

Although Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is one of the newer places to get some authentic barbecue in Charleston, the restaurant also has several locations in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, combining multiple styles of barbecue to give their customers a unique experience. The Charleston location can be found on James Island on the way to Folly Beach, making it the perfect pre-beach lunch spot. 

Each morning, the restaurant cooks are up and at ‘em by 5 a.m. when they begin smoking an entire hog for 20 hours. While their classic offerings are delicious, we highly recommend branching out to try some of their smoked wings or BBQ baked potato.

Different Styles of Barbecue

If you’re not native to the South, you probably didn’t realize that there are many different regional techniques to cooking great barbecue and that each region is passionate about their style and pretty sure they do it the best—but you can be the judge. 

When seeking out good barbecue in Charleston, you’ll obviously find many examples of traditional South Carolina barbecue, but, with so many new people moving to the area, many establishments use a combination of techniques, depending on where the owners and cooks learned to chef it up. Here’s a brief rundown on the differences between each style.

North Carolina 

When it comes to North Carolina barbecue, this state is known for mastering and popularizing vinegar-based barbecue sauce, which gives the dressing an extra acidic flavor that meshes beautiful with the smoked taste of pork, chicken, and brisket. The original North Carolina recipe for barbecue sauce focused on spices like cayenne and red pepper mixed with vinegar, particularly apple cider vinegar, and hot sauce, but today many people add tomato to the recipe for an extra kick. 

South Carolina 

South Carolina barbecue’s claim to fame was born out of their unique sauce with a mustard base, much like Melvin’s Bessginer’s father’s original recipe. This type of barbecue sauce has a similar acidity to the North Carolina style, but the mustard base brings more of a tang than a vinegar-y acidity. 

In the western area of the state, this mustard barbecue sauce is often used almost as a marinade on pork shoulders, infusing the meat itself with that tangy, spicy, sweet concoction. Both South and North Carolina have also been known for their whole-hog barbecue, which involves, as the name suggests, smoking an entire hog and pulling the meat directly from the source.


Being one of the largest states in the country, Texas has several different barbecue styles, based on the region you live in. More central areas of Texas tend to skip the sauce altogether, creating a delicious flavor just in the meat itself by smoking it over oak wood. Southern Texas has a reputation for using mesquite wood to smoke their meat. 

While Texas believes in maintaining the integrity of the meat by avoiding sauces on top of the meat itself, this style uses something known as a “mop sauce,” a combination of Worcestershire, vinegar, and spices, among other ingredients, which is brushed on the meat prior to cooking.

Kansas City

This Missouri city is credited with creating a unique style of barbecue that welcomes a variety of sauces, from spicy, tomato-based options to tangy, vinegary sauces. Kansas City barbeque is usually defined by its rubs that include a variety of spices and a Worcestershire-based sauce. Kansas City barbecue is notoriously slow-smoked to get the greatest depth of flavor out of the meat.


Even if you don’t know much about barbecue, you’ve probably heard of Alabama White Sauce, which is the shining star of this regional style. What stands out most about Alabama white sauce is the color and creamy texture, which is achieved by mixing spices, vinegar, and mayonnaise. Although it’s often paired with chicken or barbecue sides, it’s not unusual for people to add it to their pork dishes as well.


Kentucky has come to be known for  a style of barbecue completely unique to the area, with mutton being one of the main offerings, though the standard meats like pork and chicken are also used. When it comes to saucing up your meal in Kentucky, you’ll find options that include unusual ingredients, from ketchup and molasses to liquid smoke.


In this Tennessee city, you’ll find barbecue with an emphasis on pulled pork and a variety of pork ribs. Whether you prefer dry ribs that have been smoked with a dry rub or wet ribs that have been slathered in a delicious, traditional Memphis-style sauce, you’ll find something to satisfy your taste buds. 

Everything’s Better with Barbecue

If you’re looking for a place to get away and interested in browsing some of the Charleston home rentals, you’ll find plenty of beautiful properties and even more local activities. Between sunbathing at the beach and exploring historic sites, you absolutely need to make time to eat your way through the city’s top restaurants. 

And, when in the South, you definitely can’t skip out on the best barbecue in Charleston. With so many great places to choose from, it can be hard to pick just one place to test out, but, anywhere you go in the Lowcountry, you’ll find a delicious selection of barbecue options cooked and smoked in the South Carolina style, as well as other regional traditions. If your mouth is watering already, we understand. Plan your trip today to experience the magic of the Holy City. 

13 Hidden Gems in Charleston, South Carolina You Must See!

Looking for hidden gems in Charleston, SC? Charleston is a place bursting with sweet southern charm and gorgeous natural scenery. Combined with its complex historical roots and bustling modern food and drink industry, the Holy City boasts several locales that both residents and tourists can visit to experience the unique vibe of this Lowcountry coastal town. 

Whether you are moving to the area or just planning a vacation, you’ll want to visit popular Charleston spots like the Fort Sumter National Monument or the downtown historic district. However, to get a true feel for the city, take some time to visit the lesser-known attractions. 

Discover 13 hidden gems in Charleston, South Carolina to add to your list of places to check out when you are in this historic port town. 

1. Cypress Gardens

When planning what to do in Charleston, SC, Cypress Gardens should definitely make your list. About 42 minutes northwest of downtown Charleston, this gorgeous location has featured several famous films such as The NotebookCold Mountain and Swamp Thing. The gardens are best known for offering small guided boat tours that carry you across the water in the midst of centuries-old cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss. 

Cypress Gardens is one of the hidden gems in Charleston

Cypress Gardens opened to the public in 1932 and remains one of the best-hidden gems in the Charleston area. Tickets are under $10 per person, and the gardens are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can partake in a boat tour or stroll through the miles of well-manicured gardens and walking trails when you visit. You can also visit the on-site butterfly house to witness different stages of the butterfly life cycle. 

Find Your Perfect Home in Charleston, South Carolina

2. The Grocery

Located at 4 Cannon Street in downtown Charleston, The Grocery is not so much a hidden gem as a sparkling diamond among locales in the area. The restaurant was opened in 2011 by Kevin and Susan Johnson to fulfill their lifelong dream of celebrating local cuisine in the Holy City. The establishment is well known for its charcuterie boards featuring fresh, locally grown fare and exciting twists on traditional cocktails and wines. 

Chef Kevin has been nominated for several James Beard awards for the innovative dishes offered at The Grocery. Locals appreciate options like the Dirty Green Tomato and Apple Bark cocktails and dishes like the Lowcountry Seafood Pilau and fried oysters. 

Whether you come on your vacation or just after you move to the area, The Grocery is a definite hidden gem to those who haven’t been in the Charleston area for long. 

3. Magnolia Plantation

The Magnolia Plantation is a well-known attraction about 23 minutes west of Charleston. Thousands of tourists visit the 345-year-old plantation each year; however, most of them go during the middle hours of the day. The real hidden gem of the Magnolia Plantation is when you visit the location as soon as it opens at 9 a.m. on a weekday — getting there before the crowds allows you to experience the stunning gardens in solitude and gain an unfettered look at the natural landscape. 

The plantation was built in 1676, and the owners take a hands-off approach to many of the older parts of the garden. These unrestored portions are some of the oldest pieces of landscaping in America and are worth the early arrival. 

Many visitors focus on the plantation tour, horticulture maze, and zoo. However, you get a true feel for the area’s history when you come early and seek out the unrestored, ancient sections of the Magnolia Plantation gardens, especially during the springtime peak blooming season. 

Pitt Street Bridge is one of the hidden gems in Charleston

4. Pitt Street Bridge

Pitt Street Bridge is a hidden gem with a long-standing history. The bridge was originally constructed before the Revolutionary War and was made of wooden planks that sat atop barrels. It connected Mount Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island and, by 1898, had grown into a trolley bridge to allow traffic from Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It became Pitt Street Bridge in 1927, as it evolved into a structure for newly popular automobiles. 

Over the years, the bridge fell out of use and is now a coastal passage covered in grass and wildlife. Visiting Pitt Street Bridge is exciting for history buffs and those who enjoy fishing. The pier at the end of the structure allows for trout and crab fishing, and the history and architecture of the bridge make it well worth the trip. 

5. Morris Island Lighthouse

The Morris Island Lighthouse is a one-of-a-kind nautical landmark located on James Island. The structure was built just after the American Civil War and began operating in 1876. It is built in the same location as four previous iterations of lighthouses, dating back to the 1673 record of a primitive type of guiding light just after the founding of the Charles Towne settlement. 

The lighthouse has played a significant role in the history of James Island. It is now owned by Save the Light, a preservation organization with a mission to protect the lighthouse from being lost to natural disaster, erosion, or collapse. 

How far is Charleston from the beach? Folly Beach, located on James Island, is only about 15 to 20 minutes away from Charleston. To visit Morris Island Lighthouse, walk north on Folly Beach to gain a clear view of the candy-cane structure, and snap a few pictures.

The Morris Island Lighthouse is one of the hidden gems in Charleston

There are no tours of the lighthouse structure; however, you can get closer to the lighthouse by traveling on a boat or kayak, although it is advised to go with a group tour rather than attempting this yourself. 

6. Charleston Tea Garden

The Charleston Tea Garden is a must-see for anyone who loves tea. The garden is about 35 minutes southwest of downtown Charleston and boasts a fascinating horticultural history. Previously a potato farm, the property began transporting tea plants from the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in 1963 to create an American-grown tea. 

Tea connoisseur William Barclay Hall purchased the property in the late 1980s and has since succeeded in producing the world’s only tea brand grown completely in the U.S. 

Visitors to the Charleston Tea Garden can experience the beauty of Wadmalaw Island, where the attraction is located, along with an educational tea factory tour free of charge. There is also a paid trolley bridge available where you can ride through a guided view of the grounds and see the tea garden’s greenhouse. 


If you’re craving a sugar rush, Charleston’s best baked goods can be found at BKeDSHoP on 99 Westedge St, across from Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, home of the RiverDogs. Voted by Food & Wine as baking South Carolina’s top donut, the bakery boasts an ever-changing menu of fluffy brioche donuts, including French Toast Waffle, Cereal & Milk and Mocha Coconut.

The premises also feature a stunning espresso bar and, unusually, a plant store, so you can stock up on a few gorgeous house plants for your new home while picking up a dozen sweet treats. 

8. Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

When you can’t hit the playground with the kids, there is no better place to beat the heat and humidity of a South Carolina summer than an air-conditioned museum. 

The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry hosts interactive exhibits for children and adults of all ages, including a Pop-up Tinker Shop, Lowcountry Pirate ship and maritime ship racing. The museum also holds seasonal events like the Scooby Doodash Halloween Bash and is available for parties and camps throughout the year. 

The museum is accessible for visitors with disabilities, including early opening times from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. every second and fourth Sunday for kids with special needs. 

The Children's Museum is one of the hidden gems in Charleston

9. Coast Bar and Grill

Housed in a former 40-ft.-high warehouse in the Historic District, Coast Bar and Grill is beloved by locals for its extensive seafood menu, boasting some of South Carolina’s best produce. The chefs meet with local farmers and fishermen every day to source the best ingredients for their mouthwatering dishes, including Coast Crab Soup, Manchego Baked Oysters and Shrimp Ceviche. 

Coast is also a pumping live music venue hosting Charleston’s most talented musical acts every Sunday from 7 p.m. 

10. Christophe Artisan Chocolatier

Hidden away in an unobtrusive side street off bustling King Street, you’ll find Charleston’s best boutique chocolate shop, Christophe Artisan Chocolatier. The store offers stunning handmade chocolates and sweet treats, ranging from classic Milk Chocolate Almond bars to more adventurous Dark Chocolate Cayenne. 

They also produce a collection of chocolate bars inspired by this southern city, including Lowcountry Heat with Pecan and Habanero and Window Box Blooms with white chocolate and flower petals.

If you love getting your hands dirty, you can sign up for chocolate- or pastry-making classes with the chocolate genius himself, Christophe Paume. 

11. The French Huguenot Church

With over 400 churches across Charleston, it’s no wonder they call it the Holy City. While there are some incredible places of worship all over the city, one of the best churches to visit is the French Huguenot Church in Charleston’s French Quarter. 

The French Huguenot Church is one of the hidden gems in Charleston

Designed in the Gothic Revival style, this is the third version of the Huguenot Church, built in 1865. It is a vast cathedral with towering spires, a vine-covered internal courtyard and a slightly pink exterior that distinguishes it from other churches in the area. The church organizes tours during the spring and fall, and community members are welcome to attend services and events held by the church. 

One of the best reasons to browse downtown Charleston houses for sale is that they are near the French Huguenot Church and other historical landmarks. Living next to such history and splendid architecture offers you a lovely atmosphere in which to live. 

12. Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art is the only visual arts museum in Charleston. It is located near the city’s historic district at 135 Meeting Street. The attraction features paintings, sculptures, gardens, photography and other forms of art for residents and visitors to the area. The museum’s first floor is free to the public, and there are paid galleries you can view on the second and third levels. 

The galleries include art from the American colonial period to the present. Their permanent exhibitions include 18th and 19th century American visual art, pieces from the Charleston Renaissance and contemporary art. 

The true hidden gems of the museum are the sculptures by Patrick Dougherty, who uses branches and twigs collected from the Charleston area to create whimsical woodsy sculptures. The Betwixt and Between exhibit is a must-see for locals and visitors to the area. 

In addition to the art, there are beautiful gardens you can stroll through behind the main art building. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. 

Philadelphia Alley is one of the hidden gems in Charleston

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13. Philadelphia Alley

This gem is located in downtown Charleston and is easy to miss since it is only a small alley between Queen and Cumberland Street near the historic Market District. Philadelphia Alley has a long, dramatic history and has survived the American Revolution, the American Civil War, two fires and centuries of change and growth in the city surrounding it. 

When you visit the Market District, stop by this small, quiet patch of land in downtown Charleston. Historic houses frame the alley and give it a picturesque appearance that highlights the architecture of the 18th century. 

Read the plaque detailing the story of the Philadelphia Alley and immerse yourself in the historical significance of such a place in the history of the town of Charleston. 

Hidden Gems in Charleston SC

Settle In Before You See the Sights

Before you experience the hidden gems that Charleston has to offer, you’ll need to find the perfect Charleston property for your stay. Whether you are moving to the area or looking for an upscale vacation rental, Dunes Properties is the premier real estate company in the area. 

Source: Maddie Benavent/Shutterstock.comOur agents are experienced in the local markets and are ready to help you buy or rent a property in downtown Charleston or the surrounding coastal towns. Contact our team today to explore property options in Charleston or visit us online to browse our available listings