The Hilton Head Island area had the most improved real estate market in the state last year, according to an annual report released Wednesday by S.C. Realtors.
The area reported more than 2,700 sales in 2011 -- a 9.4 percent increase over 2010 and more than 11 points higher than a statewide decline of 1.7 percent.
That improvement rate was the highest of the state's 15 regions by a margin of about four points.
The area's 15.4 percent increase in pending sales from 2010 was more than double that of any of the regions.
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"That shows just how much people want to move here," said John Robinson, president of the Hilton Head Realtors Association.
"I'm not saying we've gotten through the tough times at all," Robinson quickly added. "More short sales and foreclosures could be around the corner. But this is definitely a 'thumbs up' for now."
Only 19.6 percent of homes sold in the Hilton Head area in 2011 were for $100,000 or less, the lowest rate in the state for that category of homes. Beaufort placed third-lowest, with a 26.6 percent rate.
Beaufort's 0.5 percent improvement in total sales over 2010, to 979 units, remained above the state average.
But Beaufort homes stayed on the market for an average of 202 days in 2011, the second-highest in the state. By comparison, Hilton Head area homes stayed on the market an average of 139 days.
"I think that number just reflects the unrealistic expectations of sellers here," said Carl Joye, a Realtor in Beaufort. "Property tends to stay on the market when buyers are looking for the bloody and the beaten."
Joye also believes Beaufort's relative stability bodes well for the future.
"I'm a little surprised there weren't more closed sales here last year, but we've come to a stable point," he said. "We're not going down any more, and that inspires confidence."
Joye said the statistical disparity between Beaufort and the Hilton Head area is somewhat misleading.
"The market fell quicker there than it did here, and so it makes sense that they're recovering quicker," he said.
Beaufort Realtor Edward Dukes agreed.
"There are a lot of second and third homes in Hilton Head, and that's what the bad market hit first," he said.
"Hilton Head fell a little further than us," Dukes added. "But now they're coming back, and that's encouraging for the whole region."
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.