With Beaufort County real estate figures continuing to climb, local real estate agents said Tuesday that a stable housing market is here to stay and new housing construction might not be far behind.
The number of homes and condominiums sold in Beaufort and the Hilton Head Island area are up more than 10 percent over 2012, according a South Carolina Realtors report released Monday.
The median price of those sales is also increasing. At $185,000, the median Beaufort home price in August was nearly $20,000 more than last year.
In Hilton Head and Bluffton, the median home price in August was $260,964 -- roughly $48,000 more than in August 2012 and the highest in the state by more than $50,000.
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"We're seeing pricing where it should be, and people feeling better about the economy," said Linda Frank, president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors. "I don't see it slacking off."
Frank and other real estate agents said the market's stability is characterized by a slow climb in price, rather than a radical surge that caused a housing bubble in 2007.
"In 2005, I'd tell people that they better buy the home today or else it will be gone tomorrow -- or the price will go up by $10,000," said John Robinson, a real estate agent for Dunes Marketing Group and former president of the area's Realtor association.
Robinson said a condo in Tanglewood Villas on Hilton Head, for example, costs between $185,000 and $200,000 today. Before the downturn, that property ran about $350,000, he said.
"Prices were so inflated, people might never see full recovery of their property," he said.
Now, consumers are more willing to sit on their hands until the best deal arrives, said Edward Dukes, a broker for Lowcountry Real Estate in Beaufort.
Frank said the nature of many buyers in the area protects the market from the type of high-risk investments that created the bubble.
"People use homes in Hilton Head and Bluffton for utility, as second homes or rentals," she said. "It's not (like) a Miami or a Las Vegas that attracts market speculation."
With a more reliable market, many of the lots that sat empty during the recession are being filled -- fast.
Nearly 2,500 homes and condos have been sold in Bluffton and on Hilton Head and Daufuskie islands this year, according to the S.C. Realtors report. That's about 1,000 more than at the same time in 2008. And the homes have, on average, spent more than 5 percent less time on the market than in 2012.
In Beaufort, 861 homes and condos have been sold through August of this year, nearly doubling 2008's total through August. Homes in Beaufort have, on average, spent 3 percent less time on the market than in 2012.
With demand running high, it might be time for more construction.
Robinson said the amount of available housing in the area would last 7 1/2 months at the current home-selling rate. During the recession, that number was between 25 and 30 months, he said.
Where there were once seven or eight condos available at Palmetto Dunes, there are one or two now, he said.
"Builders need to get busy," Dukes said. "Inventory is getting thin."
Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.