The pandemic proved perilous to the housing market last spring, but it propelled home sales to record heights across South Carolina for the rest of 2020 and is expected to fuel strong demand in the new year.
For the first time ever, the number of residential real estate transactions climbed past 100,000 in the Palmetto State, underscoring the rush to cash in on rock-bottom mortgage interest rates and pushing a rash of newcomers to escape the lockdowns of urban centers in other states where the coronavirus raged.
For all of 2020, buyers closed on 101,500 home sales, up 2.4 percent in a challenging year for some other sectors of the economy.
"That's the highest ever recorded for South Carolina," said Nick Kremydas, CEO of the S.C. Realtors Association.
The Columbia-based trade group said in its annual report that the "market in 2020 proved to be incredibly resilient."
The side effect of the sales boom is the dearth of available homes across the state.
Housing inventory plummeted nearly 37 percent last year to less than 17,000 properties on the market across South Carolina. For comparison, five years ago nearly twice that many were listed for sale.
The stringent demand and the scarcity of homes forced prices to follow one of the oldest principles of economics.
Low supply and high demand pushed the median price for a home in South Carolina last year 12.1 percent higher to $245,000. That's more than $50,000 higher than four years ago.
Every major metropolitan area in the state reported higher sales last year than in 2019.
The high-growth Charleston area saw the healthiest chunk of home sales last year at nearly 22,000, a 17 percent increase over 2019. The four-county region represented 22 percent of all transactions statewide.
The Myrtle Beach area reported the second highest number of home sales at nearly 17,500, nearly 13 percent more than the previous year.
The Greenville region followed closed behind with 16,000 sales, up 10 percent, while the Columbia area showed nearly 15,000 transactions, up 5.5 percent.
The three-county area called the Piedmont and centered on Rock Hill, just south of Charlotte, saw another 8,000 home sales, 5.3 percent higher.
Hilton Head continued to lead the state in the cost of a home with a median price of $367,250, up 13 percent over the previous year. Charleston followed with a median price of $300,000, 8 percent higher than in 2019. The Rock Hill region wasn't far behind, reporting a median price of $295,000 for a home last year, up 8.5 percent.
More than a third of all sales last year were properties with four or more bedrooms. The segment represented the largest growth in closings at 8.5 percent, ending the year at 36,542 units sold.
"As we look to 2021, signals suggest buyer demand will remain elevated and tight inventory will continue to invite multiple offers and higher prices across much of the housing inventory," the S.C. Realtors said.
Mortgage interest rates continue to remain low, dipping slightly from last week on Thursday. The rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate loan averaged 2.73 percent, down from 3.51 percent a year ago at this time, according to home loan financier Freddie Mac. The fixed rate on a 15-year mortgage averaged 2.2 percent.
Low interest rates are expected to persist, helping buyers offset some of the increase in prices and motivating others to lock in lower housing costs through refinancing for the long haul.
"These factors will provide substantial tailwinds for the housing market into the new year," S.C. Realtors said.