Myrtle Beach area housing cost, income trend could be a warning

March 21, 2014 

A new report on housing and income nationwide shows a Grand Strand trend of rising median housing costs and declining median household incomes that is different from what’s reported for places such as Charleston, Florence and Brunswick, N.C., counties.

The trend is understandable given the conditions the last few years, says an economist at Coastal Carolina University, but could become problematic if it continues.

“It’s a warning sign,” said Rob Salvino, the CCU economist.

The report by RealtyTrac, which tracks housing trends nationwide, has household income numbers in line with those reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, but its housing cost figures differ significantly than those reported by SiteTech Systems, a Myrtle Beach company that reports on the housing market in Horry and Georgetown counties.

Despite that difference, the two reports show the same trend of rising home prices and sinking incomes, a direction that one area business leader says should be a call to action.

“We as a community have got to have a 15- or 20-year plan,” said Marc Jordan, CEO of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, was not available for comment Friday.

RealtyTrac’s median housing cost number is based on January sales figures in even years from 2008 to 2014. The report said that the 2014 median cost in Horry County was $217,750 for all housing, significantly higher than what SiteTech reported. SiteTech said that the median price in January for a single-family home was about $180,000 and about $110,000 for a condominium.

Darren Blomquist, RealtyTrac vice president who oversees the company’s reports, couldn’t be reached Friday afternoon to discuss the difference.

But the RealtyTrac number for Horry’s median household income in 2014 differs by only $1,000 from that reported by the Census Bureau for the county’s 2013 median household income. The report showed that the income in Horry County was about $7,000 below what it was in 2008.

In Georgetown County, according to the RealtyTrac report, the median housing cost in January was $212,450 and the median household income was $36,319, an $11,000 drop from the 2008 median income.

By contrast, RealtyTrac reported the median housing cost in Brunswick County, N.C., as $128,000 and the median household income as $50,319, $4,000 above where it was in 2008.

Salvino said the median household income drop in Horry County could be explained by the disappearance of jobs such as those in construction, which have not rebounded to pre-crisis levels.

“In this area, the income was still there in 2007, 2008,” Salvino said. “In 2009, it just dropped off. In 2010, it was nothing.”

He also said that the lower median household income could be explained by the high number of retirees from the Northeast among the area’s new residents. He explained that they likely made more money before they retired, and after selling homes for considerably more than the area’s median house prices, came to Horry County with a relatively high wealth level.

Jordan noted that the 1,500 jobs announced last year by the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. are for the most part above average pay levels for Horry County. But even if all 1,500 were filled now, the combined effect would not be great enough to move statistics for the total county workforce, which the state reported as more than 121,000 in January.

Salvino said he could also understand January’s uptick in median housing costs as there has been increasing activity in higher priced homes since the first of the year.

But ultimately, he agreed with Jordan about the trend of the numbers.

“If prices continue to increase and income doesn’t, then eventually there’s going to be a problem,” Salvino said.

Jordan said area leaders need to focus on securing sites and buildings ready for new employers to move into. He also said there needs to be concentration on getting natural gas service and likely rail lines to the area near the intersection of S.C. 22 and S.C. 31, where the EDC has said it wants to develop a major industrial park.

He said it’s going to take more diversity of the local economy and the influx of large employers with relatively higher pay to swing the pendulum where area leaders have said it needs to go.

“To get out of that spot (of low median wages),” Jordan said, “you’ve got to have some pretty impressive changes.”

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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