Hot Pockets While not everywhere, metro Charleston housing field showing signs of sales, price boosts
By JIM PARKER
The Post and Courier
A little good news is much-desired in the Charleston housing market.
As the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors phrased it, “Spring buying season arrives early in Charleston; nearly 900 closings in March, highest since 2007.”
Not a groundswell of activity but a steady gain.
Local agencies agree that the market is turning rosy at least for now.
This March should turn out to be the best sales month that Carolina One Real Estate has had since May 2007, says Michael Scarafile, president of Carolina One Real Estate. “That’s units, not (dollar) volume,” he says. But it’s still a good showing.
“I’m seeing a lot of activity in my listings, a lot of buyers out looking,” says Chip Reeves, broker-in-charge of Coldwell Banker United, Realtor’s Goose Creek office and this year’s Multiple Listing Service president.
“Buyers are cautious. They’re looking at a lot of properties,” he says. But with interest rates still at historical lows around 4 percent on a 30-year loan, home purchase activity is picking up.
Reeves acknowledges that the gains are due in part to the typical spring sales upswing, but it’s a natural uptick, not artificial as with government-sparked programs such as the first-time homebuyer tax credit bump in 2010.
“Things are looking good,” says Herb Koger, the 2012 president of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. “It’s slow, but (the market is) moving up.”
Koger remains concerned about a wave of foreclosures flooding the market and dragging down prices if not sales. But other signs are positive. The Carolina One office on Long Point Road took in $14 million in listings last month, and homes are selling, he says.
Median prices are inching up. “I think it’s more realistic pricing,” Koger says. Moreover, “We are seeing construction picking up, (builders) buying lots,” he says. “Overall, things are moving forward.”
Housing figures are jibing with the agents’ word-of-mouth enthusiasm.
“Home prices are slowly starting to turn a corner,” says the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors in its March report.
Median sales prices increased 2.5 percent to $182,240. Pendingsales were up 37.6 percent to 1,204 Meanwhile, the number of days homes are staying on the market was down 3 percent to 113 days.
Absorption rates improved: the supply of inventory has fallen 34.8 percent to less than eight months.
“For better or worse — usually better — housing is closely tied to the broader economy. As much as we’re in the valley of a residential real estate rebalancing act, it’s important to keep tabs on economic changes. Recent improvements suggest that there may be a stirring of optimism in the center of this market. But not all submarkets will move together,” CTAR says.
In analyzing the housing supply, the association also saw good news ahead.
“This spring, expect signs of recovery to start blossoming around town. But be aware that this won’t necessarily be the case for every neighborhood nor every market segment.”
For April 2011 through March 2012, pending sales in the Charleston region rose 15.5 percent. The overall median sales price slid 0.5 percent to $183,000. Market-wide, inventory levels declined 25.5 percent.
Another sign of progress is how agencies have adapted to change.
Carolina One Real Estate didn’t have a property management division until three years ago; now it manages more than 1,000 homes.
“We had an entire new segment of folks who couldn’t sell and buyers who weren’t ready to buy,” Scarafile says.
“These (landlords) are the 1,000 people who couldn’t sell,” he says. Even with the overall real estate market improving, Carolina One Real Estate is expected to keep its property management wing. He says it might still take some homeowners seven to nine years before they’ve fully recovered from the downturn. “The market has fundamentally changed,” he says.
“We are thrilled with any and all improvement,” says Linda Collins, broker-in-charge of Prudential Southern Coast Real Estate in Summerville.
“Spring is always a good time to buy a home,” she says. But Collins is willing to go further. “I see it much improved.” The agency focuses on Berkeley and Dorchester counties, and “March is the largest month we’ve had since 2009. April is shaping up to be the same.”
Not only sales are increasing. “Our prices are up 1-3 percent. That’s not setting the world on fire,” she says, but it’s up. “I think the agents deserve it.”
Moreover, home shoppers’ attitudes have changed. “The buyer has a better feel. They seem to be in a better mood,” she says.
Collins says the interest in the market has increased notably in the past six weeks. “We are having more buyers to come in,” she says, noting that recent house-hunters were out-of-towners with Boeing and young retirees from New York.
Maybe most important, the optimistic mood isn’t just in the housing field. The real estate office is on the square in Summerville. “I’ve talked to people, shopkeepers, attorneys, they are all saying the same (positive) thing,” Collins says.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or email@example.com.
HOT MARKET GLANCE:
First quarter housing highlights (1Q 2012 vs. 1Q 2011):
*Charleston County *
Historic Charleston - sales, 0 percent; median price, +21.3 percent
Above Crosstown - sales, +22.7 percent; median price, -9.7 percent
Edisto area - sales, +18.8 percent; median price, -36.8 percent
James Island - sales, -5 percent; median price, -0.1 percent
Johns Island - sales, +32.6 percent; median price, +3 percent
West Ashley - sales, -2 percent; median price, +14.4 percent
North Charleston - sales, +10.2 percent; median price, -7.8 percent
Mt.Pleasant N Hwy. 41 - sales, +6.1 percent; median price, +0.6 percent
Mt. Pleasant S Hwy 41 - sales, +6.1 percent; median price, +2.5 percent
Folly Beach - sales, -44.4 percent; median price, -4.6 percent
Isle of Palms - sales, -11.1 percent; median price, +7.5 percent
Sullivan’s Island - sales, 0 percent; median price, +7.4 percent
Kiawah, Seabrook isles - sales, +63.6 percent; median price, +82.7 percent
* Berkeley County *
Daniel Island - sales, -6.5 percent; median price, -5.3 percent
Hanahan - sales, -12.8 percent; median price, -5.7 percent
Goose Creek/M. Corner - sales, -2.5 percent; median price, +1.3 percent
Wando (Cainhoy) - sales, -29.2 percent; median price, -11.6 percent
Rural Berkeley -sales, +46.2 percent; median price, -11.7 percent
* Dorchester County *
Summerville - sales, -4.5 percent; median price, +5.7 percent
Dorchester Road corridor - sales, +13.6 percent; median price, +3 percent
Ravenel area - sales, +90.9 percent, median price, +13.5 percent
St. George area - sales, -57.1 percent; median price, +122.2 percent
Source: Charleston Trident Association of Realtors