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SC's tightest home sales inventory sits in an unexpected place — Columbia

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Homes in the downtown Columbia market often are seeing multiple bids come in within a few days of listing, according to real estate agents. Mike Fitts/Staff

COLUMBIA — South Carolina's capital city has a housing problem: Not enough homes for sale to meet demand.

Columbia has among the state's tightest inventories with typical homes selling at a faster rates than other metropolitan areas, according to industry statistics.

That is not usually the case. Columbia usually lags Charleston and Greenville by a wide margin. Now the city has caught up.

Inventory in the several downtown Columbia neighborhoods has been especially low, said Jill Moylan, owner and broker-in-charge of Home Advantage Realty. In several of Columbia's most desirable neighborhoods, it has become common this year for properties to stay on the market for just one to three days, she said. 

"We definitely have more buyers than homes to place them in," said Moylan, a veteran of more than two decades in the Midlands real estate business. 

Columbia home prices have been climbing but not skyrocketing, up 7.5 percent through August.

Instead, said Brad Allen, broker in charge at The Art of Real Estate, there's just less inventory out there to be had: less than three months' worth, versus a statewide average of more than four months.

For a well-priced homes in popular downtown neighborhoods such as Earlewood, it's possible for multiple bids to come in and take the sale price above the asking price, which is not something that traditionally happens in Columbia, Moylan said. That kind of bidding is more common in desirable parts of Charlotte or Atlanta, she said.

One recent home for sale in the tiny Heathwood neighborhood drew multiple offers as soon as it went on the market, even though it needed some work, Moylan said. The winning bid was in the area of 10 percent over the home's listing price, Moylan said. 

The inventory challenge is reflected in the days on market statistics for the market, as gathered by the SC Realtors.

For August, the Columbia market posted an average of 50 days on market for properties, a number that puts it on par with the very high-demand Greenville market. The average listing in Charleston spent 57 days on market in August. In nearby markets such as Aiken and Sumter, that average time on market exceeded 120 days.

Allen sees the Columbia market's tightness as a problem that seems to feed on itself. Homeowners think of putting their house up for sale, but they aren't able to secure a new property at a price they are willing to pay. So they decide not to put their house on the market and might instead renovate while staying put, Allen said.

The quick pace of downtown purchasing this year means that it's harder for homeowners to put in a winning bid with the contingency that they have to sell their current place before the closing can proceed, Allen said. Sellers often are choosing a different offer without such contingencies, he said.

Another major Midlands real estate market, the Lake Murray area, also continues to be strong with limited inventory.

A new subdivision on the lake, which its builder calls the first new project with waterfront access in a decade, charged a $250 down payment just for consumers to get a first look at the property. 

The property in mostly rural Saluda County, called Palmetto Pointe, sold almost 90 of its lots in the first six hours of sales, according to developer Dean Sinatra. The scarcity of affordable properties coming onto the market helped drive that success, according to Sinatra. 

Existing Lake Murray properties, too, continue to sell quickly and at higher prices, said Brent Downing, owner of the Downing Team real estate firm.

Demand is so strong that his agents have their eyes open to spot homeowners who are likely to put their places up for sale, so that their buyers might get in the door before the property actually goes on the market, Downing said. 

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