Monday, January 23, 2012

S.C. home sales stabilize in second half of 2011

COLUMBIA -- Home sales in South Carolina started off rocky in the first half of 2011 but gave way to a decidedly more settled second half, according to figures released last week by the S.C. Realtors trade group.
And with the number of homes on the market shrinking, industry experts say last year could have been the turning point for a market that has lost nearly half of its sales since peaking in 2006.
“If you just look at the year-to-year comparisons, I'm actually pretty excited at the fourth-quarter results; they were very strong, and we finished the year just about even with 2010,” said Nick Kremydas, S.C. Realtors chief executive officer.
Statewide, home closings fell 1.7 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year, to 46,762. Home prices also fell slightly.
Median price was down about 1 percent for the year to $148,500.
The median price fell the most along the Grand Strand, 7.3 percent, to $139,090, in 2011. But the low prices spurred more sales and home closings were up 3.2 percent along the Grand Strand in 2011 when compared to the previous year. About 7,550 homes, condos and villas were sold, according to the association.
And homes statewide sat on the market longer waiting for a buyer to come along, an average of almost five months — up 8.1 percent for the year compared to 2010.
Inventory levels, however, sank to just under a year in 2011 from 14.2 months in 2010 and 14 months in 2009.
Inventory in a healthy market is about six months.
Kremydas said 2011 likely will be remembered as the year the state's free-falling real estate market finally stabilized.
Another wave of foreclosures or new policies, such as eliminating the mortgage interest deduction as has been proposed by some legislators, could throw a wrench into a recovery.
But so far, historically low interest rates and falling home prices have eased years of falling or government stimulated spikes in home sales.
“Ultimately, the upcoming spring market should be a major indication of the direction of housing,” the Realtors report stated. “Sellers are seeing multiple-offer situations, buyers are seeing sub-4-percent loans, and supply-demand trends are more balanced.
”When it gets down to it, that's a stable foundation and a far cry from 2009,“ the report concluded.
The year-end report is also representative of what real estate agents say they experienced in 2011.
”We sold more houses last year and the prices were down,“ said Andy Walker, partner in the Bollin Ligon Walker real estate firm and president of the Central Carolina Realtors Association.
Pending sales, homes for which contracts have been written but which haven't closed, were another bright spot in the Columbia area market report, rising 29.4 in December, Walker noted. That's an indication that sales will rise in the coming months.

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