Beaufort News

Lowcountry real estate market shows signs of recovery

The real estate business chugged toward recovery last year in both the Hilton Head Island and Beaufort areas, according to statistics and Realtors.

Home, condo and villa sales increased 16.1 percent to 2,486 in the Hilton Head area and by 21.7 percent to 963 in the Beaufort area compared to 2009, the South Carolina Realtors recently reported.

Those are the best marks of any of the 15 markets tracked by the state association.

Only seven markets recorded more sales in 2010 than 2009. Overall, state sales were up 0.2 percent.

The increasing local sales volume has area Realtors encouraged the recession's effects are receding from South Carolina's coast.

Even though prices remain depressed and many sales these days occur as a result of a foreclosure or with one looming, any sales are welcome after the national economic downturn, said Island Realty's Todd McDaniel, 2010 president of the Beaufort County Association of Realtors.

"At least they're transactions," he said.

Beaufort's median sales price of $175,000 was down 6.4 percent from 2009 and 23.5 percent from 2006.

Hilton Head's median sales price of $234,900 was down 11.7 percent from 2009 and 34.8 percent from 2006.

Those numbers are good news for buyers, many of whom are seeing steep discounts from the peak of the county's building boom and are snapping up bargains before the best deals disappear and interest rates rise, said Charter I Realty & Marketing's Charles Sampson, 2010 president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors.

"Who doesn't love a sale?" he asked.

Low prices aren't good for sellers, but as the number of available homes decreases, there should be less competition on the market, Sampson said.

He estimated fewer than 100 homes are for sale in Hilton Head Plantation, for example. That's down from 175 or so at times during the recession's peak, he said.

Both Sampson and McDaniel, however, say they are concerned about the number of foreclosed homes banks reportedly are holding in reserve.

If those properties are released too quickly, they could flood the market, stalling the current rebound and driving prices lower, the Realtors said.

The pace of foreclosures has slowed lately, Sampson and McDaniel said, but the number of homes in some stage of foreclosure in Beaufort County increased from 2,131 in 2009 to 2,588 in 2010, according to RealtyTrac, a California firm that tracks such data.

That total was 76 in 2006, 171 in 2007 and 681 in 2008, RealtyTrac reported.

The 2010 total means one in every 32 housing units in the county was subject to a foreclosure filing during the year. It also gives the county the second-highest rate in the state, trailing only Dorchester County, where 1 in every 27 housing units was subject to a filing last year.