A display of bricks encased in wood sits in a corner of White Realty’s front office in North Myrtle Beach.
The bricks are from the company’s first office near 17th Avenue South and Ocean Boulevard. The building was torn down in 2002 to make way for a parking garage, and White Realty moved to its current location on Madison Drive.
A plaque on the bricks commemorates the Crescent Beach business, with an inscription:
“White Realty EST. 1964," and below that, "From the Past to the Future.”
But the future of White Realty is short-lived.
After decades of staying open, White Realty is shutting its doors, thanks in part to COVID-19 and a job offer that was hard for property supervisor Wayne White to turn down.
Its closing will have a ripple effect across the North Myrtle Beach community, affecting renters, more than a dozen homeowner associations and possibly North Myrtle Beach High School football.
“I had to get over the fact of kind of feeling like I’m killing a 56-year-old family business,” said Wayne White, who’s worked full-time for his dad’s rental company since 2002. “Mom and dad have both retired with the COVID situation and everything. Mom came out of retirement and she’s been back in here working. Dad’s tried to stay away as much as he could.”
White Realty is owned by Wayne White’s dad, Terry White, 71, a North Myrtle Beach councilor and mayor pro-tem.
After working for Brad McCutchen Rentals for several years, Terry White and his dad Royce White bought the business together in the early 60s and renamed it White Realty.
“He wanted to sell it and I wanted to buy it,” Terry White said, touting his record of continuous service since 1964. “Not a lot of people can say that anymore. We’re proud of the fact that we’re still renting a lot of places that still have the original homeowners in them. And those that died have passed it on to their children and grandchildren, and we’re still renting.”
The company rents out 93 units and is the property manager for 16 different homeowner associations, almost all of them in North Myrtle Beach.
White Realty has been renting out many of the same units since its founding.
Ellington Cottage, a two-story beach house with seven beds and two-and-a-half baths on South Ocean Boulevard, went for $85 per floor, per week in 1965. Today, that same unit goes for $960 a week for the downstairs section, and $720 a week for the upstairs.
“There’s a lot of fond memories. We’ve got a lot of homeowners and renters that are family,” said Terry’s wife Wanda White, recalling a recent conversation with a long-time renter. “She came with her parents when she was a little girl. We had to go through the whole life history of her family and White Realty together, and that’s just one call. We have had so many calls and tears.”
Since the 1960s, Joseph Nagy, 74, has been renting with White Realty.
It started with Nagy’s grandmother from Chester, South Carolina.
“Every July we would go to the beach,” Nagy said. “The Crescent Beach area, we’ve been going there since I was a baby, and we’ve been renting through White Realty ever since they went into the businesses.”
Now, Nagy lives in Columbia, Ohio, but he still makes the annual trip to the beach with his wife, kids, grandkids and sister.
“Our plans start with them every year,” Nagy said. “Every time I think of the beach, I think of White Realty. We would call sometime in the wintertime to book our units. Talking with them on the phone, they were always very friendly and very open. We never had any problems that they didn’t handle.”
Then at the tail end of June, he got an email with news of the closing. “It was quite a shock,” he said.
So far, four generations of Nagy’s family have rented from White Realty.
“It would have been five generations if they stayed open a couple more years,” he said. “White is an integral part of the beach area down there.”
Dusty Saulsbury of Sanford, North Carolina has been renting with White for almost five years, starting with the September 2016 trip when he got engaged.
“It was really just a pick out of a hat when me and my wife were first dating,” Saulsbury said. “I wanted to find a really nice beach house because I was going to propose to my wife.”
He found a place in Windy Hill, and his family has been going back ever since. (The night-time marriage proposal went well; his wife’s brother brought her dogs, he sang a song before pulling out the ring, and on the beach illuminated by a bright moon, she said “yes.”)
“Now our kids get to share that experience,” Saulsbury said. “Every year we’ve been sharing those memories with our kids also.”
But this year, they won’t be with White Realty, which plans to close at the end of August.
“Whenever I received that email, it broke my heart,” Saulsbury said. “My mouth was wide open. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Over the past 12 years, White Realty has gone from renting 148 units down to 93. Some of them were lost to time and torn down, some sold to new owners who chose a different rental company, and some were taken off the market altogether.
“I went back and looked at our brochures for each year,” Wayne White said. “It made me feel a little better. I could kinda count which ones … aren’t there anymore because they got torn down, or the ones that I knew weren’t on the rental market. Out of the 55 that we lost, I think there were maybe two or three that I could come across that we were no longer renting them because the owner didn’t think we were doing a good-enough job renting their unit.”
But the loss of units didn’t bode well for the company, which doesn’t do sales.
“We used to do sales, rentals and everything, but we got out of the sales business because it just wasn’t my cup of tea,” said Terry White.
Wayne White said he’d been watching the trend of lost units for the past year. But the company didn’t “have a ready-set way to replace them without us doing sales and without me on the property management side just cold-writing letters to everybody saying ‘Hey, we’d like to rent your unit and we’re gonna cut our commission.’ That’s just not the way I did businesses.”
But in January and February, Wayne White said he was trying to find a way to turn the company around. And then COVID-19 came to town.
“So in the middle of doing that and figuring out what letters need to be written and how things need to be done, that’s when COVID hit and all of a sudden we’re looking at 50 percent of profits,” Wayne White said. “So now, instead of ‘What do I need to do to last years down the road,’ ‘What can we do to last through an off-season?’”
Local residents were already pressuring their elected officials to stop the flow of tourist from hotspots like New York and New Jersey when North Myrtle Beach banned short-term rentals, then almost all new rentals, for most of April.
“We had to refund everybody for April,” said Terry White. “And we were pretty-well booked for April.”
Now, the roles are reversed, with DHEC labeling Horry County a COVID-19 “hotspot,” and governors throughout the Midwest and Northeast urging their residents not to travel here.
“A lot of them was in New York, they weren’t coming down,” Terry White said. “That had a lot to do with it, too.”
The loss of White Realty will leave 16 HOAs to find a new property management company. Wayne White was adamantly opposed to selling their contracts to someone else because he didn’t want to stick all the HOAs with new managers without their input.
Carolina Dunes HOA board of directors President Jack Mohr welcomed White's decision not to sell out.
The HOA in a Cherry Grove high-rise represents 32 units. Mohr has been on the board since 2008, and president for more than six years. The HOA has been with White Realty for nine years.
“That was very respectful on his part and we really appreciate that as well, because we don’t want to be slam-dunked into another company we know nothing about,” said Mohr, adding that the company had a great working relationship and personal relationship with the HOA.
“You could trust them and they were very loyal to you,” he said. “They’d always greet you with a smile on their face. It was a great relationship that I had with them.”
Now, Carolina Dunes has interviewed four other management companies, three of them recommended by White.
“It’s gonna be sad because we’re gonna have to go to a larger company,” said Mohr. “It sure was wonderful working with a smaller company that was easier to work with. Right now, we’ve got to get some more information before we make a decision.”
While the pandemic was making it hard for Wayne White to turn the rental business around, he got a job offer from Coastal Carolina University in the school’s athletics communication department. It won’t be his first time working for the school, where he was inducted into Coastal athletics' hall of fame in 2003.
After graduating from CCU in 1992, he went to work for the university full-time in 1993. He worked as the sports information director and then as the assistant athletic director for media relations until 2002, when he left for his dad’s company. He said he made the change to spend more time with his own kids, who are now grown.
The offer to get back into college sports made his decision to leave White Realty a bit easier.
“That’s always my first love, and it always has been. I was in college athletics before I came here,” Wayne White said. “It was, 'How much fight have I got in me to fight for something if it’s not my true love of what I would like to be doing, waking up every morning for the rest of my life?' That made the decision on my side a little easier, just because from a personal standpoint, I can get up and really want to go to work.”
Wayne White is a fixture of North Myrtle Beach High School football, and is the go-to guy for anyone interested in the Chief’s football stats.
But if he goes to work for Coastal, there’s a possibility that he won’t be able to call North Myrtle’s high school football games that are broadcast on WRNN.
“That’s one of the things that’s really up in the air right now,” he said. “I don’t really know what my job duties are going to be, what sports. I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do radio for football or not. I was just talking with coach (Matt) Reel about that the other day. I hope so, but obviously my first responsibility’s going to be back over there.”
Terry White said the closing was “bittersweet,” adding that his his favorite memories from the business involved helping people.
“Just knowing they come back year after year, getting Christmas cards from them and all kind of stuff,” he said. “It was like they were part of the family.”
Terry and Wanda White have an RV and enjoy travelling. They plan to keep up their pastime.
But the couple plans to travel “prayerfully,” Wanda White said, “if this COVID-19 doesn’t kill that, too.”