Home sales increase 5% in July

Metro -- Signs of improving sales dot the new homes in Ryland's Taylor Plantation in Dorchester County on Monday July 27, 2009. (Wade Spees/Staff) Published Caption 7/28/09: Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gigi B. Manning stands in front of a tank from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in Kabul.

July's home sales did something the Charleston area hasn't seen in more than three years: They increased.

The Charleston Trident Association of Realtors reported Monday that nearly 5 percent more homes sold last month when compared with July 2008.

That summer bump won't cancel month after month of declines, association president Ralph Wetherell said, but the forward momentum could portend better days to come.

"It's fairly substantial if we go a couple of months with year-over-year improvements," Wetherell said. "I would expect it to carry throughout the year."

Wetherell said he bases that prediction on pending activity, which is looking stronger than at any point in the past two years. He credits the federal government's $8,000 first-time home-buyer tax credit and recent economic outlooks that show recovery ahead.

July's median sales price for the tri-county area came in at about $182,000, down from $215,000 in July 2008 and down from a little less than $193,000 in June, according to the association. Its data show that 796 houses sold last month, up from 760 in July 2008 and 732 in June.

The uptick in sales follows a catastrophic spring, when home-buying dropped about 20 percent each month compared with 2008 and 40 percent compared with 2007, historical data showed.

"We've got year-end numbers that were not kind last year to real estate," Wetherell said. "Our activity looks very good to close out this year in a strong position."

The College of Charleston's Monthly Home Value Index, which tracks the value of a house's features over time, showed that a typical residential erty increased in value by 1.87 percent in July. That's down from 2.51 percent in June.

Particularly hot-selling areas in July include: West Ashley outside of U.S. Interstate 526; Mount Pleasant south of S.C. Highway 41; Legends Oaks and White Gables in Summerville; and around U.S. Highway 17A in Berkeley County.

Susan Bryant, a real estate agent with The AgentOwned Realty Co., said she sees signs of change in the rental properties she manages.

"People are paying a lot of money for rent," she said. "Those are all going to be buyers. ... Almost all are buyers waiting to see what the market's going to do or waiting for a house to sell in another part of the country. "

Bryant said she also has noticed an increase in lot sales from people unable to find the homes that meet their every specification.

"They say, 'All the good houses are gone,' " Bryant said. "We haven't seen that in a while."