Robert and Emerald Oravec were itching to sell their condominium late last year to move closer to a favorite surfing spot, but they were stuck. They owed the bank $194,000 and figured the most they could get was $180,000.

When they put their San Diego home up for sale a few months later, they fielded five offers within two weeks. It sold for $260,000 in May, allowing them to invest profits in a new home that’s more than twice the size on a large lot and 40 minutes closer to the surfing beach.

“We’re stoked,” he said. “It was better to be patient and wait it out.”

Soaring prices are leaving fewer homeowners owing more money than their properties are worth, bringing them off the sidelines of the nation’s surging housing market and offering relief to buyers who are frustrated by bidding wars.

As more homes are put up for sale, price increases are expected to moderate.

Mark Fleming, chief economist at real estate data provider CoreLogic Inc., calls it “a virtuous circle.”

“The fact that house prices have increased so dramatically ... has unlocked a lot of that pent-up supply,” said Fleming, whose firm found that markets with the largest percentage of “underwater” or “upside down” mortgages often have the lowest supply of homes for sale.

From January to March, 19.8 percent of the nation’s mortgaged homes were underwater, down from 23.7 percent a year earlier and 25 percent during the same period of 2011, according to CoreLogic. Gains spread across the country, though regions that rose high and crashed hard remained saddled with homeowners who bought near the peak.

Housing inventories remain unusually low. There was a 5.2-month supply of existing, single-family homes for sale in May, compared to 6.4 months a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Inventory also has been falling in the Lowcountry, where sales have been on an upswing.

But with interest rates edging higher, the region may be showing its first sign of a pull back on the buying side.

There were 260 homes “under contract” in the region between June 23 and June 29, marking one of the slowest weeks in recent month, according to the website CharlestonReal EstateStats.com. Doug Holmes, an agent with Carolina One Real Estate who analyzes statistics for the site, said it could be an early signal that some buyers are having second-thoughts.

“There is some short-term effect from the interest rates,” Holmes said Monday. “All the calculations they did before do not work anymore. They have to go back to the drawing board and maybe look at different houses.”

Owen Tyler, president of the local association, said it’s too early to know if mortgage rates affecting sales. He said it usually takes 45 days for a transaction to close, and sales contract information is not always readily available.

“I don’t believe the effects of an increase in interest rate on sales will be felt until August ... assuming any affect at all as interest rates are frequently moving around the board,” he said.

The association gives it next local home sales update on July 10.

Tyrone Richardson of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.