The Hilton Head Island area leads the state in home sales through the first nine months of 2011, according to a quarterly report released this week by S.C. Realtors.
Area sales of homes, condos and villas are up 5.8 percent. Statewide, homes sales dropped 5.1 percent on average.
The strong rate of sales on Hilton Head is tempered, however, by a 3 percentage point decline in the median price of homes sold.
According to Karen Ryan, president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors, sales in Sun City Hilton Head and Bluffton have been steady, suggesting that many of the new sales are attributable to investors and second-home buyers looking for property near the beach.
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"Investors are back," Ryan said, "because prices are as low as they've been in many, many years. Demand for beachfront homes has been pent up for a while, and that's what we're seeing now."
Investors also are buying homes not oriented toward the beach -- 13 rows or farther from property nearest the beach -- as their average price has dropped more than 10 percent to $612,000 in the first nine months of 2011, compared to the same period in 2010, according to Hilton Head Realtor Andy Twisdale.
"People are realizing that the stock market is like a yo-yo," said Twisdale. "They're taking money out of the market now and putting it in homes here instead."
In the Beaufort area, sales lagged all other 13 regions in the state with a 14 percent drop in the third quarter.
For the first nine months of the year combined, Beaufort's sales remained better than the statewide average, but its recent dip emphasized the gap in markets divided by the Broad River.
"It's like a night and day difference from one side of the river to the next," said Carl Joye, a Realtor in Beaufort. "There's just been more growth south of the river than in Beaufort."
Another Beaufort Realtor, Bryan Gates, hypothesized that the region's quarterly decline might be partly attributable to a change in buying tendencies of the area's military community.
"In the past, our numbers have been greatly influenced by the military here," Gates said. "It's possible that they're no longer purchasing as they have in years past."
Statewide, sales were up 10 percent in the third quarter, as home prices and interest rates continued to drop.
Mortgage rates -- despite climbing slightly last week -- remain near historic lows. According to Freddie Mac, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates are at 4.12 percent and the 15-year rate is 3.37 percent.
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.