Home sales in the Columbia area and throughout the state have returned close to pre-recession levels and likely will stabilize in the coming months, experts say.
“I feel more solid now than I have in five years,” said longtime Columbia real estate agent Doug Bridges with Coldwell Banker United, Realtors.
Sales have been rising steadily in the past two years, since hitting bottom in 2011.
That trend continued in 2013, when sales rose 22 percent to 9,295 in the Columbia area compared to 2012. Statewide, sales rose 18 percent to 63,297, according to a report Wednesday from the S.C. Realtors trade group. That puts home sales about where they were a decade ago – just before the beginning of an unprecedented real estate bubble that burst and sent the country into the worst recession in a lifetime.
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Home prices also rose slightly in 2013.
The median price for homes – the point at which half sold for less and half for more – that sold in 2013 in the Columbia area rose 3.1 percent to $145,000. Statewide, the median price rose 5 percent to $157,500.
Those increases put prices back to levels last seen in 2007, the first year of the Great Recession.
“The biggest encouragement and relief that I have is that I do see an absence of homes continuing to decline in value,” Bridges said. “It certainly is a sign of healthier times when we don’t have to talk about how much lower the value of your home has gone down.”
For years, as the recession raged and the recovery floundered, “I felt like the undertaker,” Bridges said, as he helped people list homes and had to tell them their houses had plummeted in value since they had purchased them. “It was depressing.”
The turnaround has been slow, he said. But sure.
“Hopefully we’re rising out of that, and I think we are,” he said.
Indeed, construction has led the way out of the recession, said Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist with the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business.
“Columbia really has been gaining momentum overall in terms of job growth,” Von Nessen said, adding increasing numbers of jobs are the single best predictor of home sales growth.
South Carolina’s jobless rate has plunged in the past year, dipping to 7.1 percent in November, the last month for which figures are available, from 8.7 percent at the beginning of the year. And more than 2 million South Carolinians had jobs in November, the most since July 2008.
“It’s a good sign,” Von Nessen said.
Other indicators that the real estate market is improving, according to Von Nessen, include:
• Columbia has roughly an eight-month supply of homes available for purchase, down from 11 months in 2012 and more than a year’s worth in 2011. The “magic number” for a balanced market is about six months, he said.
While housing affordability is starting to dip, it is still higher than it was in 2007. “This is just the inevitable outcome of a more healthy economy,” he said.
• Sales increases have been in a range of price points, meaning consumers across the economic spectrum — from first-time home buyers to those looking for bigger houses — are buying. “It’s increasing across the board.”
“Consumers are more confident,” Von Nessen said. “They’re less worried about being laid off, and they have more disposable income.”
The year-end statistics overall show a more stable market that is on the rise but not accelerating too quickly in an unhealthy way, Coldwell Banker’s Bridges said.
“That’s very comforting,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty good about it.”