All Systems Go: Metro Charleston enjoyed surging real estate period in 2013, and agents expect slightly milder imitation this year

An aerial view shows the Hospital District in Charleston, part of the region's economic lifeblood (Leroy Burnell/Staff).

In 2013, the median sales price in the Charleston area reached a five year high at $206,530, according to the region's Realtor's association.

The news isn't special in itself. The figure doesn't reach a record.

But the price midpoint, which also passed above the $100,000s threshold, joined a slew of economically impressive numbers - a sight for sore eyes among property sellers, real estate agents and the thousands of businesspeople who rely on the housing market.

The numerous upside totals for metro Charleston last year - sales jumped a whopping 21.1 percent for instance - have streamed in after a period dating to 2008 when indicative housing figures such as sales and prices were pointing down and distressing numbers such as foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies were signaling upward.

In its annual report released this month, the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors highlighted the gains in the Lowcountry and nationwide.

"It was a banner year for residential real estate across America," the report notes.

Greater Charleston, which includes Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties, was not alone in its market increase in 2013.

"Nearly every metropolitan housing market embarked upon or continued along the road to recovery," the report says.

According to yearly numbers, the Charleston area continued recovering and may be a year or so away from fully bouncing back.

Home sales landed at 12,744 last year, the highest figure in half a decade, the Realtors association says.

"Not only was there more demand in 2013, but the product mix of these additional sales also skewed toward higher-priced traditional homes," the association points out in its yearly report on the Charleston area housing market.

The group was effusive in its praise of last year's housing conditions. "The year 2013 brought tectonic shifts to housing's landscape. Many local markets transitioned from buyers' markets to sellers' markets. Closed sales are up. Days on market until sale is trending downward. The percent of list price received at sale is trending higher. Sellers even managed to post a notable gain," the report says.

At the same time, mortgage rates stayed low although moved upward. The historically trim interest rates, combined with home prices that have remained affordable and an improved jobs scene "created a triple play that helped bolster consumer confidence and galvanize local markets," according to the association.

The report provided more detail in a few key areas:

Consumers were left with "a sense of empowerment and urgency," thanks to low home loan rates, rising employment opportunities and a strong stock market. Moreover, rents were on the rise in a year that several new apartment complexes came online. The 21.1 percent sales boost works out 35 homes purchased a day in 2013 compared with less than 30 a day the year before.

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Inventory levels are one of those figures that portends good economic news when they fall. They dropped "throughout most of the year,

finishing at 12.3 percent below 2012's final tally." At year end, buyers still could pick from 5,411 houses. According to the association, "the number of active listings is likely to increase in 2014 as the market continues to recover." Just as sale closings shot up, property owners listed 13.9 percent more homes for sale than in 2012.

Nonetheless, "there is pent-up demand remaining from the economic downturn where sellers are now ready to make a move."

According to the association, market conditions can vary. But consumers are buying fewer foreclosed and otherwise distressed properties because there aren't as many out there. "Taking a step back, there are also fewer mortgage delinquencies," CTAR says. With fewer foreclosures and short sales, the overall price mix wasn't as impacted by discounted properties. The percentage of closed sales that were either foreclosures or short sales fell to 18.8 percent in 2013 from 26.6 percent in 2012. "Families who faced foreclosure during the Great Recession are yearning to own once again," the association points out.

This year should be similar to 2013 but not as frothy. "In 2014, expect prices and sales to continue their ascent but perhaps at a tempered pace," CTAR says. "We closed 2013 with an 8.7 percent median price increase compared with 2012" when the median price was $190,000. The association looks for increased "move-up buyer" activity and less investor activity. There also should be an upward bump in new construction.

"Housing is closely tied to economic health. Households with gainfully employed wage earners are more likely to make bigger purchases like a house or a car," CTAR notes.

In summary, the association cited a quote from Franklin Roosevelt, "A nation of homeowners is unconquerable." According to CTAR, "The American Dream was alive and well in 2013, as U.S. citizens proved that they still want a stake in the action. "With countless benefits to families, cities and regions, homeownership

continues to be the fabric of our communities, and we expect the national and local housing morale to remain sharp in 2014," it says.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or