In recent times, Debbie Fisher has fielded emails and taken calls from fellow brokers interested in downtown properties they're trying to locate.

Fisher, owner of Handsome Properties in Charleston, says she's sent out a few such calls and electronic contacts.

"We haven't seen that for awhile," she says.

The reason? Historic Charleston's popularity with travelers combined with a recovering housing market are boosting home sales downtown while reducing inventory. That's left fewer properties to market to a growing number of prospects.

The surge of interest stands out most noticeably with higher-end condos and homes of more than $2.5 million, Fisher says.

"I think the market is really strong. We had a lot of momentum," she says. At the same time, "The inventory is really low."

Starting in the fall, sales were impacted by pending federal flood insurance changes set to make rates soar. Areas such as the Charleston peninsula would have been impacted when properties changed hands.

But the worries have abated as Congress haltingly moves toward a compromise and, more dramatically, private insurers have started offering flood coverage locally, she says.

A homeowners' gathering about flood insurance, held at 1 Meeting St. earlier this month, addressed the rate concerns and the recent introduction of private coverage at competitive prices, Fisher says.

Also, condo buyers would be protected from rate jumps anyways: The flood insurance increases would take place when property sells, but a condo transaction involves an adjustment to the property regime rather than an ownership change.

"If you're seeing this now in January and February, it's a very positive (market). I think people now have confidence," she says.

Fisher's listings include 1 Meeting St., a four-story mansion on the market for $5,499,000. She says Handsome Properties has marketed the property for a year, but it's not for lack of interest from buyers. "When we listed it, right away we had an offer from an international buyer." The seller and buyer couldn't agree on a price, however. Since then, various parties looked at lining up a deal but there were no firm offers.

Similarly, Handsome Properties has had interest but no sale at 2 Water St., a six-bedroom 7,400-square-foot property priced at $7.3 million, says Anna Zevenhuizen, marketing director. The agency took over the listing in March 2013. The four-level house covers three lots; includes a swimming pool, exercise room, spare kitchen and garage; and offers panoramic views of Charleston Harbor when you walk into the living room.

"We are seeing an uptick in activity (in downtown properties in general)," Zevenhuizen says.

The marketing director notes that the flood insurance issue slowed interest for awhile but that's turning around.

"I think the more people become educated, the more (they gain) confidence," she says.

A more predictable sales driver is the wealth of features in downtown homes.

Mona Kalinsky, Realtor with William Means Real Estate, lists 5,000-square-foot 28 South Battery for $3,499,000.

In her listing write-up, Kalinsky's highlights include:

- Noted Civil War photographer George Cook built the masonry Italianate home in 1860.

- An "exhaustive and meticulous" renovation focused on the functional such as the structure and electrical work to decorative such as luxurious kitchens, baths and flooring.

- A second level "bright and beautiful" drawing room with 12 foot ceilings and a wide balcony overlooking White Point Gardens. "This room is so welcoming, you may never want to leave," she says.

To tour downtown Charleston homes, either drive, walk or bike around the area basically south of the Septima P. Clark Crosstown and more particularly Calhoun Street.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or