The number of households in Beaufort County rose more than 5,000 in 2010, reversing a three-year decline, according to the American Community Survey.
But the county's foreign-born population declined.
Both numbers buck trends. The 9.2-percent increase in households -- to 64,391 -- suggests people who had been hoping for the right economic circumstances to move to the area are finally able to do so, according to the president of the Hilton Head Association of Realtors.
"We're seeing some buyer confidence for the first time in a while," Karen Ryan said. "The economy might be starting to free some people up to purchase homes here."
The survey, which is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, generated national headlines earlier this week by reporting that only 11.6 percent of Americans moved to new homes in 2010. That rate, down from 12.5 percent in 2009, is the lowest on record since the Census Bureau began tracking the statistic in 1948.
But in Beaufort County, the population remains significantly more mobile than the national average: 17.2 percent of people in Beaufort County moved into a new home in 2010, up from 16.5 percent in 2009. The 2010 average in South Carolina was 15.4 percent.
"I think that might reflect local retirees downsizing to more cost-conscious, energy-efficient homes," Ryan said. "They like it down here and want to find ways to stay."
Another notable finding was a decrease in Beaufort County's foreign-born population. That number, which had increased from 2007 to 2009, fell more than 1,000 to 13,947 in 2010.
However, South Carolina had nearly 220,000 foreign-born residents in 2010, a number that has climbed each of the past five years for which data is available.
Eric Esquivel, publisher of La Isla, a Spanish-language magazine in Beaufort County, attributed the decline to difficult economic conditions for local minorities.
"Hispanics are the biggest minority group in Beaufort County, and they're also the newest," Esquivel said. "In tough times, the newest groups tend to be most affected."
Esquivel also cited racial factors as a possible cause of the decrease.
"It's become an anti-immigrant environment in Beaufort County," Esquivel said. "It's just not a friendly, conducive climate if you look and sound foreign."
In other findings, 61.2 percent of Beaufort County households in 2010 were composed of a married couple with a family, the highest rate in the past five years. That figure is considerably higher than the state average of 47 percent, which decreased for the fourth consecutive year.
Beaufort County's population also remained better educated in comparison to the state average; 36.4 percent of county residents had attained at least a bachelor's degree. The 2010 statewide rate is 24.6 percent.
Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.