Local Realtors stayed busy in August, as home sales surged across Beaufort County and median sales prices continued to fall, when compared with last year's figures.
Sales of homes, condos and villas jumped nearly 28 percent last month in Beaufort -- the highest increase of any of the state's 16 regions, according to S.C. Realtors . Local agents attributed the gains to record-low interest rates and more buyers getting off the fence.
Sales jumped 16 percent in the Hilton Head area, the report said, marking at least three consecutive months of double-digit sales gains.
Median sales prices fell in both northern and southern Beaufort County and remain down for the year, amid steady demand for homes priced under $200,000. However, Realtors say interest in higher-end properties is building.
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"We are seeing a large uptick of sales in the $200,000-and-below price point," said Karen Ryan, broker owner of Weichert Realtors -- Coastal Properties, which has offices in southern Beaufort County. "That's been going on since last year.
"But now, we are starting to see the higher price points selling more robustly, as well."
HILTON HEAD AREA
Median sales prices fell about 17 percent in the Hilton Head market last month to $212,500 and remain down 2.6 percent for the year.
Even so, prices are rising in some communities.
John Robinson, president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors, said median prices are up 34 percent in Spanish Wells Plantation and 19.5 percent in Wexford Plantation so far in 2012, compared to the same period last year. Prices for Hilton Head Plantation and Palmetto Hall homes also are rising.
"When sales start to go up and inventories start go down, supply and demand kicks in, and that's when prices will start to firm, and they will gradually start going up," said Robinson, of Dunes Marketing Group.
Another promising sign: Distressed properties -- those available through short sales and foreclosures and tend to depress prices -- are getting bought, Ryan said.
"A lot of those more distressed sales are being absorbed out of the market. Any great deal that's coming on the market is getting multiple offers," she said. "We haven't seen prices increase in the higher end of market, but it feels like we are on the cusp of that now."
Beaufort-area home sales recovered last month after a slow July, but the median sales price fell about 8 percent from a year ago, to $167,000. For the year, prices are down 2.4 percent.
Realtor Carl Joye, of Weichert Realtors-Apex Realty in Beaufort, said sellers are setting more "realistic" sales prices, which is drawing more buyers off the sidelines. Although there are fewer distressed properties, he said, they will continue to be a factor for the next few years.
Nonetheless, even distressed properties aren't selling for fire-sale prices anymore.
Edward Dukes, broker-owner at Lowcountry Real Estate, said the "crazy steals are long gone," and the best buys overall remain on the higher end of the market. He predicts that, too, will soon change.
"Some of best bargains are still in high end," he said. "The rest of market is tightening up, and I think this fall we are going have some traffic in the high-end stuff."