Home sweet first home Charleston’s slower than average price increases, marginally shrinking inventory works to advantage of first time house hunters

David Weekley Homes is showcasing this model at Timbercrest Village, a new neighborhood in Tanner Planation. First-time homebuyers would be enticed by the value-oriented price for a reasonably sizable house.

The 42 new houses expected from David Weekley Homes at Timbercrest Village offer plenty of perks, including seven home styles, sizes from 2,140 to 3,800 square feet and flexible designs: your choice of ranch or two story dwellings, master bedrooms upstairs or downstairs.

According to Danielle Traverse, the features have brought in everybody from empty nesters to downsizing couples. But one pitch that’s attracted many of the shoppers is the “amazing price point,” says Traverse, who represents the builder at the Tanner Plantation neighborhood in Hanahan.

Notably, the well-valued stickers are enticing first time homebuyers, considered a key part of the housing market because they add to the eventual purchasing pool and provide ready customers for more-moderately priced new-home neighborhoods.

Houses in upscale Timbercrest Village from David Weekley Homes, which is constructing all but 20 dwellings in the community, range from $277,990 to $329,990. The prices work out to $90 to $130 a square foot, well below the $200 or higher figures in East Cooper and elsewhere.

“We do have a lot of first time homebuyers coming through,” Traverse says. As for sales, one home is under contract with a first-time buyer, she says.

David Weekley Homes’ experiences in its new Berkeley County community spotlight the tentative environment among first-time homebuyers, which include people who have never purchased a home and, by the definition of most housing agencies, homeowners who have gone three years without acquiring a residential property.

The volume of first-timers has lagged in recent years. Scores of existing homeowners hit by the 2008 housing slump found themselves in foreclosure and leery about wading back into the home-buying arena, while many post-college professionals in recent years have been choosing to rent luxury apartment-homes or move back with their parents instead of diving into home ownership. Still, Timbercrest Village’s recent history indicates that sizable numbers of first-time buyers are at least searching for homes, if not negotiating down payments and obtaining mortgages at still low rates around 4 percent for 30-year fixed loans.

Hugo Diedericks, a Realtor with Carolina One west of the Ashley, says he’s “relatively new” to Charleston real estate but is familiar with properties in which local first-time homebuyers would show interest.

There are rules of thumb, he says, that first-time homebuyers in the Lowcountry market — or any market, for that matter — can consider.

“Nowhere in the world has real estate devalued over any 15-year period,” he says. “The value of your home will double every 14 years, based on the last 4 and 14 year cycles.”

Moreover, with finance costs still low, “Now is a very good time to enter the real estate market. In fact it could still be the best lifetime investment for the average American — that is to purchase your primary residence,” Diedericks says.

He notes that rents tend to increase every year, while mortgages can be fixed at a set amount. As a result, homeowners grow their net available cash annually.

According to Diedericks, most shoppers can take advantage of a “simple buyers guide (to understand) the process, the opportunities and the pitfalls involved.” Here’s a few examples:

- The most important factor is to get pre-qualified through a lender. “This will set an objective and allow new buyers to plan for the day they can have that sense of comfort of owning their own home,” he says.

- Shoppers can work with a real estate agent to save them time as well as provide knowledge of homes that fit their criteria, including new homes coming onto the market, Diedericks says.

One financial consideration that expectant homeowners should explore, Realtors say, involves government or related programs aimed at first-time buyers.

According to real estate site www.HSH.com, there are at least two incentives packages available in South Carolina directed at initial house hunters.

They include a first-time buyer home-ownership program that “centers on down-payment assistance in conjunction with a fixed-rate first mortgage at a competitive market rate for low-to-moderate income homebuyers.” According to the online site, “Borrowers can qualify for up to $5,000 in down-payment or closing-cost assistance.” Depending on income, the money either passes on to the buyer as a repayable second mortgage loan or as a forgivable second mortgage.

Another program “provides an extended (interest) rate-lock period and allows up to one ‘float down,’ (to a lower rate) to preserve affordability on a newly-constructed home.”

Visit www.schousing.com for more on the South Carolina programs.

Initial purchasers should have their financing lined up before they commit to buying a house, Realtors agree.

“Your first home should be a unique property experience — and set the foundation for a solid asset portfolio — not a debt trap,” Diedericks of Carolina One says.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.