Bluffton is one of the best places in the state to buy a home, along with being among the fastest-growing areas in South Carolina, according to a recent study.
The town was ranked second on a list of the best places in South Carolina for homeownership, according to a study by consumer financial website NerdWallet. Bluffton scored big, thanks to a rising population and a high ratio of homeowners to renters.
Bluffton was one of 51 towns, cities and census-designated places with a population greater than 10,000 that were included in the study, NerdWallet analyst Maggie Clark said.
Bluffton finished with high marks in the ownership rate and population growth from 2010 to 2012, which accounted for two-thirds of the final score in the study, Clark said. Clark used the five-year estimates in the U.S. Census American Community Survey to calculate each of the categories examined to build the ranking.
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Beaufort finished 37th in study, and Hilton Head Island was 39th.
Five Forks, a Greenville suburb, ranked No. 1 on NerdWallet's list.
The list was compiled using an array of statistics. Among the most important was the percentage of homes lived in by their owners. Among the top 20 places, Bluffton ranked third, with 78.6 percent of homes owned by the occupant. Only the Columbia suburb Irmo, which finished fifth overall, and Five Forks ranked ahead of Bluffton in that measure.
"Homeownership is a big category, because it shows what level people are really investing in the community," Clark said.
Among population growth, only the Myrtle Beach suburb Socastee was close to Bluffton. From the 2010 American Community Survey to the 2012 version, Bluffton's population rose from 10,748 to 12,186, a 13.4 percent increase that was the highest among the top 20 locations.
Bluffton Realtors said shoppers are looking for homes in the town as the housing collapse and Great Recession fade.
"We've got calls from people wanting to rent, but more and more people want to buy homes," May River Realty broker Richard Coffield said. "Business has picked up, thank God."
Coldwell Banker Platinum Partners broker Pam Gouty thinks people are beginning to move off Hilton Head Island to Bluffton and Okatie. Gouty said communities such as Hampton Hall, Oldfield, Westbury Park and Pinecrest, as well as areas closer to the schools in town, are increasingly popular.
To determine housing affordability, NerdWallet compared median home values and the monthly cost of homeownership to median monthly income. By that measure, Bluffton ranked , Clark said.
Bluffton also had some of the higher median home values in the study. At $229,000, Bluffton was third in that category behind Mount Pleasant and Five Forks.
As for other areas of Beaufort County, the city of Beaufort was hurt by a low ownership rate, as only 60.2 percent of homes in the city were lived in by the owner, Clark said. However, the study didn't take into account factors such as the city's high military population, which may have skewed that rate because of the high number of renters, Clark said.
Clark said Hilton Head ranked low mostly because the cost of ownership was high in comparison to median monthly income -- 40.6 percent -- which could be explained in part by the prevalence of high-priced homes in an area with many retirees.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.