In 1996, the Daniel Island development's first homes sprung up - rising out of the ground like the millions of tomatoes that had sprouted there for decades before.

Residential construction would quickly replace farming as the cash crop. The island burgeoned as a bedroom community, just 15 minutes from pretty much anywhere.

Sure, there wasn't much to do at first.

"You went out there, you slept," says Philip Sykes, agent with Carolina One Real Estate.

Yet even early on, the Berkeley County enclave within the city of Charleston attracted businesses, first at a trickle and then a stream.

Jobs opened up at hotels, stores and large companies. The new island residents could pick up food at a supermarket, handle transactions at banks and buy clothes at local shops. And they could dine at local restaurants.

Daniel Island developed a "downtown" dotted with multistory buildings. It attracted a K-8 public school and the private Bishop England High School.

And, the island would land public attractions: Blackbaud Stadium draws spectators for pro soccer and Family Circle Cup tennis center for tournaments, shows and concerts. Developers launched exclusive features such as the Daniel Island Club, which showcases two championship golf courses.

All the while, builders added hundreds of homes, condos, townhomes and apartments to the "inland island." Estimates put the Daniel Island population at more than 10,000 today, with 15,000 people expected to live there in the not too distant future.

"It's really nice. The Daniel Island market is extremely vibrant," says Sykes, who is listing a home in one of the original neighborhoods for $859,000.

Renee Reinert, who moved to the ritzy Daniel Island Park neighborhood nine years ago, sees the island as a "true community" with doctors' offices, grocery store, schools and small businesses. "You can get your hair cut," says Reinert, formerly an agent with Daniel Island Real Estate who started her own venture, Iron Gate Realty.

Tuesday evening, she took a short respite from her real estate job to play tennis. Where? At the well-appointed racquet complex in Daniel Island Park, a few blocks from her home.

"You don't really have to leave the island," she says.

Daniel Island these days has emerged as a mature self-contained 4,000-acre village, displaying a resort-like atmosphere attracting locals and visitors alike while offering island residents everything from employment to eateries.

"Our homes are anywhere from $300,000 to $5 million," Reinert says. "But it's the lifestyle that brings people here." They come from many different backgrounds and are arriving from "all over: Ohio, California, Africa," she says.

Rising demand has pushed up home sales and prices, although there's still a wide range of costs and choices. New home construction focuses on the mansion-esque Daniel Island Park, north of Interstate 526, to chic Smythe Park edging the Wando River to the south.

"We are having an exceptional year," says Rick Vale, broker-in-charge of Daniel Island Real Estate. "Demand is getting to outstrip supply."

Island sales jumped 18 percent in May from the same time frame a year ago, while inventory levels dropped 20 percent, he says. Homes are staying on the market for an average 75 days.

Prices are surging. At the end of April, the average home price stood $100,000 higher than a year ago, he says. The typical sales price in May climbed to $710,000.

Daniel Island avoided the worst of the multiyear housing slump starting in late 2007 and early 2008, and "it's been a quicker recovery," Vale says.

But the island wasn't immune. The market bottomed out at 84 sales in 2009. By comparison, the peak year was 2004 with 267 sales, Vale says. The second best year turns out to be 2013, with 203 transactions, and sales are on a pace to top that figure in 2014, he says.

"What we are finding, especially in the land purchases, is a lot of cash buyers. Also (home) sales above $1 million are increasing," he says, describing it as a big part of the business.

An encouraging trend, Vale says, is that nearly all the home purchases and sales involve people wanting to live in the residence as opposed to investing for rental income or to "flip" property at a higher price.

"I'm a happy guy," he says.

"With this market, it's more sustainable," Sykes agrees. "It's the primary owner (who's buying)."

Real estate observers say a growing number of Daniel Island residents who move are staying on the island, either by way of purchasing an existing home nearby or acquiring vacant land. "You will see a lot of people building their own homes," Reinert predicts.

The Realtor acknowledges that the market earlier in 2014 had sped up - perhaps a bit too fast. "I saw at the beginning of the year, houses were flying off the market," Reinert says. Today, "I think we're in a little bit of a calmness," she says, "a healthy climbing."

To reach Daniel Island from downtown Charleston, head west on Interstate 26 to I-526 east, then take the island exits; or travel north to Mount Pleasant and take I-526 to the island.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.

DANIEL ISLAND AT A GLANCE

Location: Berkeley County

Number of homes: 1,765 (single-family)

Square footage: 638-8,622

Look & feel: Two years from turning 20, the 10,000 population community within the city of Charleston has established itself even as new-home building continues. Upscale neighborhoods encircle open parks used for play and special events. Youngsters and adults ride bikes and golf carts around the 4,000-acre inland island, which has its share of cars and trucks, too. Million dollar plus homes rise in Daniel Island Park north of Interstate 526 and on Smythe Park at the south end. A few home sites sport Wando River docks. The increasingly self-sufficient island boasts a grocery store, restaurants, shops, banks, major employers such as Blackbaud and BenefitFocus, two golf courses, Family Circle Cup tennis center and home of the Charleston Battery pro soccer team. Half of the dwellings are single family homes, one-third condos and townhomes and more than 15 percent apartments. The island claims a "downtown" at Seven Farms and Daniel Island drives.

Homes on market: 156

List prices: $124,999-$4,650,000

Schools: Daniel Island School elementary and middle, Hanahan High; Bishop England High School (private).

Fun facts: The island gets its name from Robert Daniell, granted the land from the Lord's Proprietors in England in the late 17th century and later governor of the Carolina colony; the village consists of eight "park" neighborhoods: Barfield, Center, Cochran, Codner's Ferry, Daniel Island, Etiwan, Pierce and Smythe.