Foreclosure rates are down, home sales are up, and consumer confidence is running high.
The housing market might not be what it was before the Great Recession, but residential real estate has stabilized in Beaufort County, according to a year-end report by the S.C. Realtors Association.
"We're moving in the right direction," said John Robinson, a real estate agent with Dunes Marketing Group on Hilton Head Island. "A lot of our communities are getting healthier, and in many places, it's a buyer's market."
Home sales in the Hilton Head area climbed nearly 10 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, according to the report. Beaufort area sales were even better, increasing 20 percent.
Home prices surged with the rising sales. The median price of Hilton Head area homes and condominiums rose more than 12 percent in 2013, finishing at $254,000. Beaufort area dwellings saw a 3 percent median-price increase last year, coming in at $180,620, the report says.
SOUTHERN BEAUFORT COUNTY
Improved real estate markets in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest helped the southern Beaufort County market, as retirees could finally sell homes and move to the Lowcountry, according to Randy Fix, president of the Hilton Head Association of Realtors. More than 3,600 homes were sold in Bluffton and on Hilton Head last year.
"(Success) is reflective of what's going on nationally," Fix said. "We're really focused on demographics, the baby boom. Ten thousand people turn 65 every day, and now that things are getting better, we're really seeing the ripple effect."
The sales have put a dent in the area's inventory of foreclosed homes, Robinson said. Of the 77 homes for sale in Palmetto Dunes, for example, only one is a foreclosure, he said Friday.
And in places such as Bluffton, hot spots for failed mortgages during the downturn, foreclosure rates have been cut nearly in half, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based firm that tracks residential foreclosure filings.
One in 321 homes was foreclosed upon in Bluffton in 2013, a decline of about 37 percent from 2012, the website reports.
"A few years ago, we saw an overabundance of foreclosed property," Fix said. "Now, we're slowing down."
NORTHERN BEAUFORT COUNTY
In Beaufort last year, agents sold more high-end homes -- worth $300,000 or more -- than at any time since the recession, according to Chris Skrip, broker-in-charge at RE/MAX Sea Island Realty.
"It's probably due to money freeing up and a renewed confidence in the economy," he said.
Low- to medium-priced homes are moving fast, too, he said.
"We've started to see folks trickle into town for the F-35B (Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters)." The new-generation fighter jets will be based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, where construction is underway to prepare for their arrival, expected this year.
Foreclosure rates also are down in Port Royal and Beaufort and on St. Helena Island, indicating a more stable market.
Skrip said many foreclosed homes have been sold, and other sellers are "waiting for the spring market or waiting for prices to go up" before putting their homes up for sale.
The reduced inventory has sparked home construction.
In Beaufort, Allen Patterson, who owns Allen Patterson Residential, said new construction was up 20 to 30 percent from last year.
He's working on 12 to 15 homes, nearly double his workload during the recession. He has sites on Fripp Island, in Battery Creek and in downtown Beaufort.
"Interest rates are staying strong. The value of construction material is down -- I think everyone is feeling better," Patterson said. "Two years ago, you couldn't give homes away. Now, you're scrambling for them."
Still, construction rates aren't through the roof, and banks are more conservative with loans than seven years ago. That bodes well for a market hoping to avoid another speculative bubble.
"It's a big wound that will take many years to heal," Skrip said. "But things aren't escalating at a crazy pace, and I don't foresee it happening anytime soon."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.