Charleston-area home sales soared again in September as buyers rushed to take advantage of record-low mortgage interest rates.
Residential real estate transactions jumped nearly 50 percent last month compared to the same month a year ago, according to preliminary data from the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.
The increase follows double-digit sales gains of 12 percent in August and 32 percent in July as buyers crowded the market after the spring stay-home orders were lifted.
A small part of surge last month can be attributed to a dent Hurricane Dorian likely put in activity during the first week of September 2019, when the governor ordered an evacuation of coastal counties.
This year, only a dearth of available homes stood in the way of even more selling.
Last month, 2,067 homes changed hands throughout the region at a median price of $310,000, a price up nearly 9 percent or about $25,000 from September 2019.
Through the first nine months of the year, 15,741 homes sold at a median price of $295,807. For the year, sales are up 10 percent while the price is almost $17,000 higher, or about 6 percent.
"We have been very lucky to avoid any significant weather-related market interruptions that we have run into the last few years, but the September data is a continuation of this year’s unprecedented growth," Bobette Fisher, the association's president, said in a statement this week.
Homes sales, she added, have not dipped below the 2,000 mark in the Charleston region since June, a pace that has been maintained despite historically low inventory.
Fisher also pointed to efforts to help with housing affordability, a worsening problem in the region as demand outstrips supply for several years and has driven up prices. The association hopes voters will support two upcoming ballot questions asking for funding to provide affordable housing.
"We have seen regional prices increase by 60 percent in the last 10 years," Fisher said. "This growth has pushed buyers farther away from their jobs and community centers, pricing many out of the areas that create efficiency in terms of their transportation patterns and (causing) a decline in their quality of life."
As sales increase, inventory continues to plummet.
The number of homes listed as "active" in September in the CHS Regional MLS tumbled to 3,375, or down nearly 47 percent from a year earlier.
The housing supply, already low before the pandemic, has been further stressed by health fears among would-be sellers who worry about opening their homes for showings.
Homes that are being listed are being snapped up faster than ever, at an average of 45 days on the market before an offer is accepted, according to the Charleston Realtors group.
Total showings for the region posted another strong gain in September at just over 27,000, about 40 percent more than the same month last year. The areas with the highest number of showings were again concentrated in the western suburbs of Ladson, Summerville, Goose Creek and Moncks Corner.
Helping propel home sales are low mortgage interest rates.
Home loan financier Freddie Mac's most recent report showed the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate loan slipped to 2.87 percent last week, down from 3.57 percent a year ago. The 15-year, fixed rate averaged 2.37 percent, down from 3.05 percent a year ago.
"The year-long slide in mortgage rates seems to be ending as rates have flattened over the last month and the economic rebound has slowed," said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. "But with near record-low rates, buyer demand remains robust with strong first-time buyers coming into the market."
While home prices continue to soar throughout the Charleston region, property information service CoreLogic predicts they will increase slightly by 0.2 percent nationally by August of next year.
The firm also believes the strain on inventory from high demand should spur more homebuilding.
"Consumers who have not been as financially impacted by the ongoing economic pressures are taking advantage of low mortgage rates to either break into the market, upgrade their living situations or purchase second homes and investment properties," said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic.
The industry's local trade association adjusted its home sales total for August slightly higher to show 2,066 transactions at a higher median price of $316,000.