Home sales took a nosedive in October, dropping 42 percent in Columbia from the same month a year ago. Agents across the region closed 433 deals during the period, compared to 743 sales in October 2013, according to a report from the S.C. Realtors trade group.
It is not abnormal for home sales to slow down going into fall, experts agree, as shoppers take a break from the peak spring and summer sales seasons, though sales in the Columbia market have dropped nearly every month this year.
A home sales report for South Carolina was not available for October because of a glitch with the data feed for reports from Hilton Head Island, according to S.C. Realtors. The group typically offers home sales reports for the state and local areas at the middle of each month.
The question now for Columbia is whether the October slowdown was just a blip, or an indication of new troubles ahead for the local market.
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“I’m a little taken aback by the 42 percent,” said Doug Bridges, a longtime real estate agent in Columbia. “That’s pretty severe.”
Even as the U.S. and state economies continue to improve, there remains a fair amount of uncertainty among consumers, which may be among the factors that caused the home closings dip in October, said Bridges, who has been a real estate agent in the Columbia market for 42 years and currently works for Coldwell Banker United, Realtors.
A range of factors may be influencing whether buyers are moving now or waiting until later, Bridges said. October led up to an important midterm election, the Federal Reserve indicated it would keep interest rates low well into next year and the stock market experienced a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows.
Far fewer sellers put their homes on the market in October than last year, as well. New listings also slumped 42 percent in the Columbia market, according to the report.
“That means fewer people are moving. Fewer people want to put their houses on the market,” Bridges said. “If I was guessing, I would say 60 percent of the Columbia market is locals – people who are relocating, either buying up, buying a larger home or buying a smaller home – downsizing.”
Out-of-town buyers typically have accounted for a large slice of the market: people moving to the Columbia area due to industry, such as BlueCross BlueShield, the University of South Carolina or Fort Jackson, Bridges said.
“We still don’t have that mainstream of out-of-town buyers that we had at one time,” Bridges said. “Maybe that’s dropped off even more.”
However, there were bright spots in the report:
• Pending sales in the Columbia area still are ahead 10.7 percent over 2013 sales through October. Those are deals in which contracts have been signed but the sale has not yet been completed. A rise in pending sales could be a good sign for the coming months as those deals close.
• Housing stock in the Columbia market fell 18.7 percent to a 7.4 months’ supply of inventory, nearing a normal market’s inventory supply of about six months.
• The median price of homes that sold increased 2.2 percent in October to $145,129 from the same month a year ago.
And Bridges himself said he his office experienced “a little bump (up)” in business in the July through October period. The office expanded, in fact, to add a social media technician and a closing coordinator – someone who monitors daily deals to ward off the potential for deals falling through.