Home sales in South Carolina are still declining but continued to show some improvement in July, with three regions reporting an uptick, the S.C. Realtors trade group reported Friday.
Across the nation, the housing market is slowly recovering from the economic crisis.
In South Carolina, sales were down 8.6 percent last month, compared with July 2008, the Realtors trade group said. Columbia saw a 14.5 percent drop.
Home prices were still eroding statewide, with the median down 8.2 percent to $142,500. In Columbia, prices remained steady at $149,000, with a less than 1 percent drop.
Sales numbers and prices also dropped between June and July.
But real estate agents see a glimmer on the horizon.
While her firm’s sales are off 8 percent from last year, the market is starting to turn around, said Brenda Hanna, broker at Prudential Midlands Real Estate.
“Even though we’ve cried the blues about it, we’re better off than most parts of the United States,” she said.
For the first time in years, some coastal regions saw an uptick in home sales, including Myrtle Beach and Charleston. But home prices took a beating.
Beaufort remained even in sales, S.C. Realtors reported.
Sumter posted a 7.4 percent increase in sales and a level median price.
The skid in home sales was slowed by low interest rates, tax credits for first-time homebuyers and discounts offered by builders trying to reduce inventory, said Mark Vitner, Wells Fargo’s senior economist in Charlotte.
“There’s a lot of stimulus being thrown at the housing market,” Vitner said. “There’s a lot of deals to be had.”
Still, Vitner predicted the S.C. residential real estate market has a long road toward recovery.
“We’re two years away from where Realtors and builders would say things are pretty good,” he said.
Part of the problem is the large number of homes on the market.
Columbia has about a 10-month supply of homes for sale, said Terry Padalino, chief executive of Keller Williams Realty in Columbia. In a good market, such as the one three years ago, there’s usually about a three-month to four-month supply.
There also are fewer buyers because so many people bought homes during the boom years, Vitner said.
“Everybody who could afford it bought a house and everybody who could not afford it bought a house,” he said.
Those who could not afford their houses are in foreclosure, and that also is increasing the number of available houses, Vitner said.
Other issues contributing to the sluggish recovery are the tightened credit market and falling home prices, he said.
For example, those wanting to downsize might want to wait, unless they can afford to sell a house they bought for $800,000 for $600,000, Padalino said.
Hanna said it is heartbreaking to tell people their house won’t sell for the price they paid.
“This had to happen,” she said. “Prices were escalating too fast.”
Finally, the state’s 12.1 percent unemployment rate — an all-time high — is hurting sales, too.
“When you’re not sure you’re going to have a job tomorrow, you’re not going to buy a house,” Hanna said.
Reach Rupon at (803) 771-8308; Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307