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Homes sales across South Carolina have cooled so far this year from last year's record-shattering pace. Warren L. Wise/Staff

Home sales across South Carolina slipped during the first three months of 2019 after a blistering pace last year that set a state record.

Residential transactions dropped 0.6 percent during the first quarter across the Palmetto State, with 18,358 sales, according to the latest data from the Columbia-based S.C. Realtors Association.

All three major metro areas recorded lower home sales for the January-March period, with Charleston down 5.0 percent, Columbia off 3.3 percent and Greenville dipping 1.7 percent.

“We're definitely seeing a softening in the market,” said Nick Kremydas, CEO of S.C. Realtors. "If sales surpass 2018, it will be a mild surprise. Activity is still very strong, though."

The less-vigorous market comes after buyers snatched up 87,256 homes across the state in 2018, an increase of 3.8 percent over the record set the previous year.

Slower sales have not stopped prices from climbing.

The median price across the state jumped 4.1 percent to $202,000 during the first three months of the year.

The Hilton Head area continued to lead the state with a median home sales price of $320,000, up 3.2 percent during the first quarter.

Charleston, where affordability has become an issue, reported the second-highest regional median price at $264,000, an increase of 4.4 percent for the period.

And despite diminishing transactions, the average days a house remains on the market dropped to 94 across the state from 95 during the first three months of 2018. In the state’s top three metro areas, the days a house sits on the market before being purchased hovered around two months.

The slower pace of sales is not surprising to S.C. Realtors. In its annual report, the trade association indicated 2019 might not be able to match the record-smashing numbers of last year.

“The booming sales at increased prices over the last several years may not be the same thrill ride to observe in 2019,” the group said.

Sold sign for new home (copy)

Homes sales in the state's three major metro markets — Charleston, Columbia and Greenville — dipped during the first quarter of 2019, leading to slower sales across South Carolina after last year's record pace. Warren L. Wise/Staff

The Realtors group president believes 2019 is looking more favorable since the Federal Reserve decided against further hikes in the cost of borrowing money this year.

“It looks like from what we are hearing interest rates will remain stable,” said Drew Streett, an agent at Garden City Realty on the Grand Strand and president of the S.C. Realtors Association.

The trouble spot across South Carolina remains a lack of available homes on the market to meet the demand, which tends to drive up prices, but Streett said the state overall is not seeing significant price spikes.

“It’s a good stable market,” he said.

While sales have been soft in the Charleston area so far this year, Edward Oswald, president of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, believes it’s a lull “ahead of what is likely to be a busy spring season.”

April's numbers came in weak for Charleston, down 3 percent, which Oswald attributed to not enough available homes at different price points for all home seekers.

The Myrtle Beach area also has seen weaker sales during the first quarter, but Streett attributed it to "lousy" weather.

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“But we have been busy this spring,” he said. The Grand Strand's figures for April have not been released.

Despite the Charleston region's declining sales, the metro area continues to lead the state in the number and percentage of homes sold. Twenty-two percent of all homes sold statewide during the first quarter were in the Charleston area, the same percentage as in 2017.

One of the more affordable metro areas to buy a home is in the state capital. The median price in the Columbia market stood at $172,000 during the first quarter, up 4.2 percent over the same period last year.

Home prices are expected to rise at a slower pace — about 4.7 percent — in 2019, according to property information service CoreLogic. A halt to interest rate hikes will help those in the hunt for a house with lower borrowing costs than in the latter part of 2018, the firm said.

Before the recent slowdown, sales climbed steadily across the state from the low point of 45,023 sales in 2011, set during the lingering effects of the Great Recession. The pre-downturn peak was 74,829 home sales in 2006.

Almost every area of the state reported higher sales last year except for Charleston, down 1.4 percent after it shattered records in 2017.

All of the other metro areas, including Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg, showed healthy gains in home sales last year. Mid-size cities performed well, too, including Myrtle Beach, Beaufort and Hilton Head along the coast. Spartanburg, Aiken, Sumter and Florence also showed increased residential transactions in 2018.

“It was a very, very good year,” Streett said

He attributed record sales last year to confidence in the economy, more people working and attractive interest rates.

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