Running one of the largest real estate firms in Charleston was a preordained journey for Michael Scarafile.
By Marie Sebastian
When we first step into a new home, it's nice to feel a sense of peace and belongingâ€•like you and your family were meant to be there. And when Carolina One Real Estate made a name for itself in the Lowcountry, there was no place better suited for the perennially local company.
Michael Scarafile, president of Carolina One since 2011, has seen the company grow and evolve to its current reputation in the housing market. Like most exceptional leaders, Scarafile modestly credits the many members of his team for keeping the spirit of his company hearty in the Lowcountry, despite ebbs and flows in housing trends.
"I grew up in this area and have been here all my life," says Scarafile. "I attended Christ Our King, then Porter Gaud, then the College of Charleston, before heading to law school at the University of South Carolina."
After graduating law school, Scarafile worked as a law clerk for several years before getting a job with Prudential (later to become Carolina One) in January of 2005 as a house attorney.
"During those years, I co-managed sales offices and dabbled in a multitude of other projects," he explains. "Finally, in September of 2011, I was named president."
Of course, the history of Carolina One in the Lowcountry goes back much further than Scarafile's own experience. In fact, the company was first conceptualized in the 1960s, with Dave O'Shaughnessy and Scarafile's mother, Patty, who still serves as the company's CEO.
"Over the years, we've held a few different franchisesâ€•O'Shaughnessy Realty, Coldwell Banker, and Prudential," notes Scarafile. "We have operated strictly as Carolina One since 2008."
The prevailing theme during my coffee discussion with Scarafile seems to be the importance of individual agents and the knowledge they impart on both homebuyers and renters. In fact, Scarafile goes as far as saying that the name Carolina One doesn't mean as much collectively, as do the names of individual agents that buyers and renters come to know and trust.
"Anyone can pick up a telephone book when they're moving to a new town, select a real estate company, and run with it," he says. "But the agent knows the ins and outs of each neighborhood, even each street. It is my philosophy that, in time, folks will come to know the differences between the realtors and the companies."
Naturally, agent education has always been an important aspect of Carolina One. And, since the company has always been based in the tri-county area, it's essential for agents to have the skinny on Charleston's market specifics.
"We, as in the metropolitan area of Charleston, are large enough and diverse enough to offer something for everyone," Scarafile says. "I'm equally excited about the Civil War era homes and the urban loft projects downtown. What best serves our agents and our clients goes hand in hand, and it's always different."
"How have you and the agents weathered the recent years of housing market slumps?" I ask. "Has it made a difference in what people are buying or home trends?"
"Since the recession, geography definitely went through changes," Scarafile muses. "The peninsula of Charleston is protected; you can only build so much there. And in 2005, Mount Pleasant slowed down with building permits as well. The new construction started to migrate."
The "migration" that Scarafile speaks of was mainly in the north area, namely Summerville and Goose Creek, which, according to Scarafile, experienced an "explosion" during the recession years.
"Of course, we were just as excited to show homes in those areas," he says. "It might not be as glamorous as buying an oceanfront home on the Isle of Palms, but we work with everyone. Shelter is one of the basic needs in life, and we love being able to help people with it."
He pauses. "That's the reason we've been successful, or one of the reasons. We find homes for young families, for single mothers and for newlyweds. There is nothing more exciting than helping someone move into that first house. It's why I go to work every day!"
Besides helping clients find affordable homes, the Carolina One team expanded to other services during the tougher years.
"When I came on board in 2005, for example, we did not do property management at all," he explains. "But now, investors need management of any property that they haven't sold."
Scarafile is optimistic about the future of real estate in Charleston, including areas that may have dealt with a bit of "slow down" recently.
"The neighborhoods, even the ones that decreased in size and suffered tremendously, are starting to recover one by one," he says with enthusiasm. "In Mount Pleasant, there are new apartment complexes being built as we speak. The growth is happening all around us."
"What is a typical day like for you?" I ask him.
"Right now, my focus is on our agents," he says. "We had a lot of business-oriented things to deal with during the recession in order to remain a strong company, but now, some of that is behind us and I want to refocus on the agents."
Scarafile says that much of his day is spent communicating on a personal level with the real estate agent team, getting feedback from them on what is happening "out in the neighborhoods."
"Frankly, the homes are bought straight from the agents, not from Carolina One as a company," he says. "The agents are my customers, just as the homebuyers are theirs. My goal is to help them meet their goals."
Scarafile is convinced that the Lowcountry is the perfect place for the business to grow, with no plans to move into other regions. Staying local, he says, is the company's strength.
"The years that my family and the O'Shaughnessy family have spent on this company, growing it and nurturing it, are important to me," he says. "Local ownership and leadership set us apart. People ask me all the time, Why not Beaufort? Why not Myrtle Beach?"
He chuckles at the idea. "But I'm not from those places. For me, it's about being here."