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Home sales picked up across the Charleston region in May after faltering the previous two months. File/Warren L. Wise/Staff

Lower interest rates and warmer weather halted the slide in home sales in May around Charleston.

Residential real estate transactions ticked up 3 percent from the same month a year ago, according to preliminary data Monday from the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

The rise in sales comes after a 3 percent decline in April and a 9.1 percent drop in March.

Despite a full job market and robust economy, sales are down for the year by 2.4 percent.

The main reason is a lack of inventory of homes at different price points and the rising cost of houses, according to an official with the North Charleston-based trade group.

"Our market is demanding more homes at a wider variety of price points than we currently have to offer," said Edward Oswald, president. "As demand continues to be high and inventory consistently low, we expect median price to continue to rise. Locally, this exacerbates the continuing affordability issues we are facing."

The latest figures signal a leveling out of the regional housing market, with sales volume and median price making modest gains, he said.

“The gap in year-to-date sales figures is closing a little more each month, and the volatility we saw in the early-year market is calming,” Oswald said. “Median price continues to tick up, which reminds us of the other gap we need to close, which is with inventory." 

Last month, 1,882 homes changed hands throughout the region at a median price of $285,000, up 4 percent, or $11,000.

So far this year, 7,258 homes have sold throughout the region at a median price of $275,000, up 4.1 percent over the first five months of last year.

The number of residential listings on the market throughout the region stood at 5,809 as "active" for sale in the Charleston Trident Multiple Listing Service in May. That's down 2.5 percent from a year earlier.

A healthier number of homes in the region to keep prices in check is about 6,500, the group has previously said.

While the cost to own a home continues to rise, mortgage rates are down from a year ago and continue to slip lower.

Home loan financier Freddie Mac's most recent report Thursday puts the rate on a 30-year mortgage down from the previous week at an average of 3.82 percent, while the rate on a 15-year loan dipped to an average 3.28 percent.

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Lower rates are good news for house hunters and could help to trigger improved sales.

“While the drop in mortgage rates is a good opportunity for consumers to save on their mortgage payment, our research indicates that there can be a wide dispersion among mortgage rate offers," said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist. "By shopping around and getting a single additional mortgage rate quote, a borrower can save an average of $1,500.”

The lower rates, the lowest in nearly two years, can help current homeowners save money as well.

“With rates dipping below 4 percent, there are over $2 trillion of outstanding conforming conventional mortgages eligible to be refinanced, meaning the majority of what was originated in 2018 is now eligible,” Khater said.

Property information service CoreLogic expects home prices to rise 4.7 percent through April 2020.

“Mortgage rates are ... below what they were one year ago and incomes are up, which has improved affordability for buyers," said CoreLogic chief economist Frank Nothaft. "However, price growth has remained the highest for lower-priced homes, constraining housing choices for first-time buyers.”

Nationally, home prices climbed 3.6 percent over the past 12 months through April, according to the property information provider.

The Realtors group also adjusted April's sales figures slightly higher to show 1,604 homes sold at a median price of $271,245 up $1,245.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.