When clients call Realtor John Robinson searching for good deals on foreclosed homes on Hilton Head Island, he doesn't have much to show them.
"When it comes to Hilton Head, there's not much there. There's very little inventory and very little variety," said Robinson, outgoing president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors.
Other areas of Beaufort County are reporting a similar drop in foreclosed properties on the market as the county's foreclosure rate ticks downward.
One of every 423 housing units in the county went into foreclosure in November. That's a lower rate than the one in every 339 reported in November last year, according to data from RealtyTrac, a California-based firm that tracks foreclosure filings on houses, condominiums and villas.
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In real numbers, that's 220 foreclosures this November compared to 249 last November.
Within the county, Bluffton and Seabrook experienced the highest foreclosure rates. Beaufort and Hilton Head Island were among the lowest.
Robinson said that makes sense considering Bluffton was a pre-recession hot spot for homebuilders and first-time homebuyers, some of whom took advantage of risky mortgage deals and found themselves in financial trouble when the recession hit.
"It's led to more foreclosures in that area," Robinson said, noting it's a different situation on Hilton Head.
"Hilton Head purchasers may be more affluent. They had more cash for that home purchase. They had more of a safety net," he said.
There's a similar trend in northern Beaufort County, said Edward Dukes, a Realtor with Lowcountry Real Estate.
"(Foreclosed homes) are being scooped up by investors, first-time homebuyers," Dukes said.
And while inventory is dropping, there are still plenty of good deals.
"With interest rates as they are, it's still a great time to buy," Dukes said.
The number of foreclosed homes on the market could soon increase, predicts Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's vice president.
Properties scheduled for foreclosure auction in Beaufort County increased 134 percent from a year ago -- 82 in November 2012 compared to 35 in November 2011.
And it's not a one-month anomaly.
November marks the seventh consecutive month in which scheduled foreclosure auctions increased from a year ago, meaning that after a lull in foreclosure activity caused by processing and documentation delays, another batch of deferred foreclosures should hit the market soon.
Blomquist said it's a pattern seen in about half of the states, including South Carolina, where a judge must review and rule on every foreclosure case, leading to delays in the foreclosure process.
South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal added to the backlog in May 2011, ordering a moratorium on all foreclosures that were moving through the state's courts in hopes of getting banks to work with homeowners and avoid foreclosure proceedings. Toal also ordered a moratorium in 2009.
"The good news is that these foreclosures are likely not a sign of a new wave of distress hitting the local market," Blomquist said. "It is more of a sign that the market is finally dealing with distress that was created a year or two or three ago."
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