A handful of counties along South Carolina's coast account for more than half of all home sales in the state during the first half of the year as buyers continue to seek seaside escapes in the era of COVID-19.
Of the nearly 56,000 homes sold in the first half of the year, close to 30,000, or 54 percent, occurred in eight counties near the Atlantic Ocean, according to the S.C. Realtors Association.
The Charleston region, which includes Colleton County, posted the highest number of transactions at more than 13,000 through June 30, about 3,500 more than during the first half of 2020.
The Myrtle Beach area reported the second-most home sales with more than 10,700, also about 3,500 more than last year's first half.
Sales in Hilton Head, the state's priciest residential real estate market, surged 56.5 percent during the first six months of the year to more than 3,900 while nearby Beaufort saw an 18 percent jump with just over 1,700 sales.
"With virtual working environments becoming more commonplace, the appeal of coastal South Carolina for buyers from across the U.S. continues to skyrocket," said Owen Tyler, immediate past president of the S.C. Realtors and broker in charge at The Cassina Group in Charleston.
"Buyers are able to realize their dreams of living on the scenic coast in a moderate climate and having a sundry of outdoor activities," Tyler said.
Greenville and Columbia also reported large gains with the third- and fourth-highest home sales in the state.
Buyers snapped up more than 8,400 homes in Greenville, about 1,200 more than last year from January through June. The Columbia area registered more than 7,800 residential real estate transactions, up 17 percent over last year's first half.
The Rock Hill-based Piedmont Regional Realtors group, representing York, Lancaster and Chester counties near Charlotte, saw sales jump by 12 percent to more than 4,100.
Across the Palmetto State, home sales jumped 26 percent from January through June, compared to the same period last year, according to the Realtors group.
At the year's midpoint, 55,565 residences changed hands. That's 55 percent of last year's record-setting 101,500 sales. At the current rate, homebuying could outpace last year's historic number of transactions as low interest rates are projected to continue and demand for houses is not slowing down.
Slightly helping low inventory levels is a U.S. Commerce Department survey showing new housing starts nationwide ticked up 3.6 percent in May and a separate study that listings eked out a gain in June for the first time in 14 months.
Still, prices soared during the first half of the year.
The median price of a home across S.C. jumped nearly 16 percent to $269,789. Buyers paid about $37,000 more for a house in January through June this year than they did last year in South Carolina.
Two main factors drove prices higher.
Demand for housing with multiple offers on a single house led to bidding wars and a final price far above the asking amount.
Also, lumber prices spiked in May at nearly $1,700 per 1,000 board feet, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a home.
Lumber prices have since plummeted, standing at nearly $650 early morning July 23. Some analysts believe the price will drop to pre-pandemic levels and normalize by year's end as sawmills rev up to full production and more people get vaccinated, but the latest coronavirus surge could upend those projections. Lumber prices rose most of the past week after plunging to less than $500 on July 15.
The number of homes for sale declined by 57 percent statewide in June, and the number of days a house remains on the market dropped by 42 percent.
In June, homes sold after being on the market an average of 44 days across South Carolina. For the first six months, the average was 56 days.
In Charleston, the average days on market for the first half of the year was 38 days. In Columbia, it was 30. Greenville, 36, and Rock Hill, 21. All of those cities reported lower days on market in June.
"In this market, you have to be able to move quickly," said Morris Lyles, president of S.C. Realtors and an agent at ERA Wilder in Columbia.
The Hilton Head area continues to lead the state in the cost of a house with the median price during the first six months of $392,000, up $52,000 from the same period last year.
Charleston comes in second with the median price of $330,000, up $47,000, and the Rock Hill region is not far behind with prices rising to $315,000, up $34,000.
For buyers seeking the lowest-cost houses in South Carolina, the median price in Orangeburg and neighboring counties came in $149,900 for the first half of the year. It's also the only area of the state that did not see double digit percentage increases in price during the time period.
Others areas of the state with median home prices below $200,000 include Cherokee County and Greenwood in the Upstate, Sumter and Clarendon in the Midlands and the Florence-based Pee Dee region.