Smooth Selling: Charleston area economy, housing market striding ahead without overstepping

Parks at Nexton is a 320-unit apartment homes complex from The Beach Co. and MWV to open next month. The multiuse Nexton development in Summerville is an example of the burgeoning residential and commercial growth in the Charleston area, a trend that’s verified by a raft of economic indicators. Leroy Burnell/Staff 1/26/2015

Within a tri-county region spanning 3,163 square miles, agent Allston Leland focuses on a comparatively small area that includes Awendaw and McClellanville.

His real estate business, Leland Real Estate Co., counted 15 closings last year and three properties under contract. That’s .001 percent of the 14,253 homes sold in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties last year, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

Yet Leland hardly faced a work shortage. As his company’s only salesperson, he enjoyed one of his busiest seasons.

“2014 was a really good year for all of us,” Leland says.

Indications are that 2015 will be just as active. “I have a list I can’t seem to finish,” he says.

Leland isn’t the only Realtor, broker, property manager or customer marking their day planners with reminders to check out properties, sign contracts and otherwise take part in the roundly expansive Lowcountry housing market.

The region flourished last year. Citing economic stability and consumer confidence, the 4,000-member Association of Realtors called 2014 “a banner year” that extended the recent trend of healthy sustainable growth.

Among the spotlight figures from CTAR:

- Home inventories dropped 12 percent in the past year, yet “buyers still found what they were looking for” as sales volume jumped 9 percent from 2013.

- The median, or midpoint, price for metro Charleston as of yearend 2014 was $215,000, up 5 percent from a year ago and close to $34,000 higher than the $181,275 low just three years earlier.

- The most active subsections of the Lowcountry were Kiawah/Seabrook, Wando, parts of the North area and James Island.

- Charleston peninsula and Folly Beach proved to be the territories with the steepest median price growth.

- Johns Island posted the largest increase in inventory; upper Charleston peninsula, Folly Beach and Sullivan’s Island recorded the smallest climb, year-over-year.

- The types of property prevalent in the Charleston area went through a shakeup in the past three or four years. Single-family home sales were up 17 percent in 2014, while condo and townhouse sales were constant and distressed sales declined by half since 2012 to account for just 12.5 percent of the market last year.

CTAR expects similar real estate activity this year as in 2014, but somewhat muted.

“In 2015, we expect to see sales volume and prices continue to grow, but at a tempered pace,” says Matt DeAntonio, president of CTAR this year.

DeAntonio says local real estate observers will be keeping an eye on the Federal Reserve’s outlook on interest rates — “we do expect to see them increase slightly” — and Realtors will be working to ensure the Charleston region upholds its business-friendly climate and smart growth.

“Those are two keys to the long-term sustainability of this real estate market,” he says.

Earlier this month, research economist Joey Von Nessen of RESH Marketing and the University of South Carolina gave an upbeat assessment of the Charleston area economy in remarks to local Realtors.

Contributing factors to the Lowcountry financial outlook were low unemployment, job growth, declining oil and gas prices and the upward movement of real estate sales and prices, he says.

The strengthening Charleston area real estate market has brought in major new players, such as Golden Bear Realty backed by golfing legend Jack Nicklaus.

The agency opened an office in Mount Pleasant in September and has already landed 15 agents, says Todd Vance, broker-in-charge.

Still, the goal is to hire people selectively to make sure they fit with the Florida-based company’s objectives. “We are growing (over) a slower amount of time,” he says.

Golden Bear Realty chose Charleston for a few reasons. The Nicklaus family is fond of the Lowcountry, the Charleston area shows up a lot on online leads and the Golden Bear brand “is very nostalgic, just like Charleston,” Vance says.

The agency plans “a lot exciting things coming up,” including online undertakings, he says. Golden Bear Realty expects to launch 25 websites tied to Charleston; is building two IDXs (Internet Data Exchanges), which allows the public to search approved MLS properties; and has created 60 You Tube videos on Charleston.

Another expanding venture is Mount Pleasant-based Charleston Rental Properties, which merged Jan. 1 with Daniel Island Rentals and doubled its size, while increasing to 11 employees, says Heather Burton, co-owner.

“I feel we have a strong team in place,” she says. About 10 percent of the business involves assisting home buyers and sellers through CRP Real Estate, which the bulk of activity is in property management and long-term rentals of six months or more.

“(Long-term tenants) treat (properties) like their own,” she says.

With the evolution of social media, local Realtors have started to pen blogs and update customers about the area market and economic indicators.

Bradley O’Mara, of ReMax cites the real estate network’s national housing report: Sales dropped 5.2 percent countrywide in November from a year earlier and the median price rose 6.1 percent to $195,151. “Due to slowing winter sales, the months’ supply of inventory rose to 5.6 on a scale where 6.0 indicates a market balanced equally between buyers and sellers,” the agency says.

Aviles Real Estate, meanwhile, offered its January 2015 Charleston Real Estate Outlook. According to Trulia, Charleston’s median sales price has increased by $10,905, or 5.2 percent, from the same period last year. There are 1,089 homes for sale and the average price per square foot for Charleston is $167, an increase of 1.2 percent compared with a year ago.

“Overall, things are looking very good for the Charleston real estate market,” partners Gil and Susan Aviles say.

Meanwhile, Joanie Lucas of Daniel Ravenel Sotheby’s International Realty says, “Historic downtown Charleston fared particularly well with 2014 showing a 16 percent increase in average sales price over 2013. Downtown also saw a 23 percent drop in number of days on the market and 5 percent fewer sales.”

Social media-savvy Lucas guides viewers to the agency’s “e-book” to find out more about the diverse market conditions.

The housing outlook is sunny for the year ahead, local Realtors agree.

“We expect to have very similar sales to 2014 — this year will be a great year for Charleston real estate,” says Charleston broker Matt O’Neill of O’Neill Real Estate.

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