Ostergard joins Re/Max office east of the Cooper

The agent count at a national real estate franchise in growth mode locally just got a bit larger, as a veteran Charleston area real estate associate signed on.

Warren Ostergard recently became affiliated with Re/Max Advanced Realty in Mount Pleasant. He formerly was a Realtor with Coldwell Banker United.

Ostergard and his wife Margaret, likewise a Realtor, have been serving greater Charleston for the past decade, according to Re/Max Advanced. They reside on Johns Island.

The Mount Pleasant Re/Max center stands at 311 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Suite 181.

Researcher names Ashton Woods Homes 'most trusted' in its field

An Atlanta company with operations in metro Charleston once again placed first in a study to find out how confident shoppers are with their builder choices.

Lifestory Research named Ashton Woods Homes as "Most Trusted Builder" for the second straight year. The contractor says it frames homes in five Charleston area communities: Carnes Crossroads, Strawberry Station, Daniel Island Park, Darrell Creek and Watermark.

According to Ashton Woods Homes, the Lifestory Research 2014 Most Trusted Builders in America study examined attitudes of 43,200 new-home shoppers and tracked 133 homebuilder brands.

The newly released survey discovered that three in four customers "believe trust is paramount in choosing a new-home builder."

In the study, Lifestory Research measured trust using what it calls a Net Trust Quotient Score. Ashton Woods Homes, which ranks as the 20th largest homebuilder in the country and fifth biggest private house-constructor based on closings, posted a trust score of 113.2. It was the highest score of all builders ranked in the study.

For more information, visit www.ashtonwoods.com/charleston.

Institute's conservation group reaches century mark in home energy retrofits

Not so long ago, Doris Washington was "struggling with heating and cooling her home," according to a local building-efficiency organization.

But with assistance from an organization-backed program, she has a more insulated, less leaky house in terms of air loss and an upgraded heating and air system.

Meanwhile, she's not financially strapped paying utility costs as in the past.

Washington, of North Charleston, owns the 100th home that's received energy conservation help from a wing of the Sustainability Institute. The institute's Energy Conservation Corps, which includes at-risk youth among its workforce, marked the milestone late last month.

Since its launch in January 2010, the Energy Conservation Corps "saved income-qualified homeowners more than $70,000 annually across the cities of Charleston and North Charleston."

House holders often faced utility bills of more than $300 a month: Today, these "families in need" are experiencing increased comfort and safety along with the utility cost savings, the corps says.

After battling her cooling and heating woes, Washington applied to be an energy retrofit candidate. The corps undertook an energy assessment and found ways to fix the homeowner's problems.

The conservation group says it was able to:

- Reduce her home's air-leakage by 60 percent.

- Repair her improperly functioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

- Reduce duct-leakage to 7 percent.

- Insulate the home to needed values.

The corps says its efforts gave Washington and her daughter a "tremendous boost" toward a comfortable and energy-efficient home.

"I feel that this program will help me out a whole lot financially," Washington says. "It (high utility bills) has been a burden. The workers have been great and I appreciate everything" they've done, she says.

The locally based Sustainability Institute, through a partnership with The Corps Network-Corporation for National and Community Service, crafted the now award-winning and nationally recognized Energy Conservation Corps program.

According to the institute, the energy corps has given "valuable industry training and experience" to more than 50 local youth from at-risk populations. The training prepares them for industry employment and attaining life goals, after they finish the program.

"Graduates have secured employment with local energy-efficiency installation and assessment companies - and many return to assist and mentor with the program, continuing on with their AmeriCorps commitment to community service and dedication," the group says.

For more information, visit www.sustainabilityinstitutesc.org/ecc/.

Beazer launches sales event in early February

Energy-efficient homes from one builder in particular will be bargain-priced for awhile in metro Charleston as the result of special incentives.

Beazer Homes rolled out its "Get More Sales" event Feb. 1. The promotion will last through Feb. 16.

"February typically signals the start of the home buying season," according to Beazer. The company urges buyers to take advantage of "a superior energy-efficient home they can personalize," the builder says.

Continued demand for newly constructed homes helps bolster the sales event, says Beazer - one of the country's top 10 homebuilders.

"With new homes available for sale in four communities here in the Charleston area, we have something to offer a wide variety of homebuyers," says Doug Schwartz, division president of Beazer Homes for the Charleston and Savannah areas.

"This sales event is an excellent opportunity to visit one of our communities and discover the many reasons that make owning a Beazer Home special," Schwartz says.

Interested homebuyers are encouraged to visit one of Beazer's communities in the Charleston area to see what special incentives are available. Single family homes can be purchased in four communities throughout the Charleston area, priced from the mid $100,000s to the low $300,000s.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Beazer Homes USA Inc. raises houses in 16 states. In addition to South Carolina, they are Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

For more information, visit www.beazer.com.

Worel brings 'passion, expertise' to Re/Max Elite

A professional Realtor and community volunteer has joined the new downtown Charleston office of a major national real estate brokerage.

Sarah Worel signed on with Team O'Mara at the Re/Max Elite locale at 91 Broad St. Fellow agent Bradley O'Mara started up the office.

"Re/Max is the most productive real estate network, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it," Worel says.

She joins the brokerage team with a local agent's expertise, passion for the real estate industry and more than 10 years' experience in finance, software and consulting, according to Re/Max Elite.

"My personal philosophy is to offer dedication, constant communication and attentiveness to my clients, therefore truly understanding their wants and needs," she says. "Re/Max Elite values these same principles, which made this a natural fit."

Worel specializes in residential properties, including short sales, and is a member of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

Citing the association, she says buyers made 21.1 percent more purchases in 2013 than the year before, finishing with 12,744 for the year.

In addition to real estate, Worel volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way and March of Dimes as a way to give back to the local community, Re/Max Elite notes.

Gathering experiences from living in four states, Worel identifies with the importance of finding the right home for her clients, the brokerage says.

"Whether my client is buying or selling a home, it's one of the single largest decisions in their lives and I want to be a part of the entire experience," she says.

Locally owned and operated Re/Max Elite specializes in luxury and residential real estate. The office supports Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and Susan G. Komen among other charities.

For more information, call Re/Max Elite at 843-713-7077 or contact Worel at 843- 496-9112 or sarahworel1@remax.net.

Cassina Group posts record sales year in 2013

The final numbers for residential real estate sales last year show that at least one Charleston-based agency had the best season in its history.

The Cassina Group broke its sales record in 2013.Volume totaled more than $152.8 million in closed sales, representing 50 percent growth over the company's 2012 numbers.

"We are beyond pleased that 2013 was such a productive year for our company," says Robertson Allen, broker-in-charge and co-founder of The Cassina Group. With just 19 general brokerage agents, the boutique firm placed in the top 10 of all Charleston-based real estate companies. Cassina Group says it wound up "surpassing firms with many more agents."

According to Allen, "Our dedicated, full-time agents, wonderful clients and cutting edge website attributed greatly to this success, and we look forward to another prosperous year."

The agency works with local technology firm BoomTown ROI to design and manage online capabilities.

According to Cassina Group, its website employs an easy-to-use real estate search engine that allows users to narrow down their preferred residential property searches in a quick and efficient way.

"Our goal is to stay on top of innovative technology to deliver the best possible customer experience to our clients and to only hire driven agents who can deliver the high level of service our customers expect," says Jimmy Dye, broker and co-founder of The Cassina Group.

Founded in 2006, the company recently purchased its second office in the Charleston area. Its offices are at 309 Coleman Blvd. in Mount Pleasant and 69 Morris St. in downtown Charleston.

For more information, visit www.TheCassinaGroup.com.

Foreclosures continued to fall in state through 2013

Mirroring a national trend, South Carolina finished the year with another drop in the percentage of homes where owners can't meet their mortgage payments.

The state's foreclosure inventory, made up of homes at some stage of foreclosure, sank to 2.1 percent in December of last year. A year earlier, the rate was 3 percent, according to CoreLogic residential property-information company.

At the same time, the state racked up 9,575 "completed" foreclosures - those in which owners actually lose their homes - in the 12 months ending December 2013. That placed seventh highest among so-called judicial states where courts play a larger role in handling foreclosures.

South Carolina's serious delinquency rate landed at 4.9 percent. Mortgages are considered seriously delinquent when they are 90 days or more past due.

By comparison, the national foreclosure inventory hit 2.1 percent, down 31 percent from 2.9 percent a year ago. Foreclosures across the country totaled 620,111 as of December, off 24 percent from 820,498 a year earlier. The U.S. serious delinquency rate was 5 percent. And there were 45,000 completed foreclosures nationwide in December last year, a 14 percent dip from 52,000 in the last month of 2012. On a month over month basis, foreclosures fell 4.1 percent from a revised 47,000 in November 2013.

From the time the financial crisis began in September 2008, there have been 4.8 million completed foreclosures nationwide, CoreLogic says. As a comparison, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006. The number spiked starting in 2007 as the housing market slumped.

As of December, about 837,000 homes in the U.S were in some stage of foreclosure, compared with 1.2 million a year before. Month to month, the foreclosure inventory dropped 2.7 percent in December from November of last year.

"The foreclosure inventory fell by more than 30 percent in December on a year-over-year basis, twice the decline from a year ago," says Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. "The decline indicates that the distressed foreclosure inventory is healing at an accelerating rate heading into 2014," he says.

"Clearly, 2013 was a transitional year for residential property in the United States," says Anand Nallathambi, president and chief executive of CoreLogic.

"Higher home prices and lower shadow inventory levels, together with a slowly improving economy, are hopeful signals that we are turning a long-awaited corner," he says. "The housing market should continue to heal in 2014, but we expect progress to remain very slow."

For last year, the five states with the highest number of foreclosures where people lost their homes were Florida at 119,000; Michigan, 53,000; California, 39,000; Texas, 39,000; and Georgia, 35,000. The states accounted for nearly half of all completed foreclosures nationally, according to CoreLogic.

Conversely, the five states with the lowest number of completed foreclosures for last year were District of Columbia with 63, North Dakota at 417, Hawaii at 493, West Virginia with 505 and Wyoming at 759.