Single family home sales in Horry County jumped in 2012 by the highest percentage since 2005, according to figures from Tom Maeser, market analyst for the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors.
And while the median price paid for those homes in 2012 declined by 1 percent from 2011, the prices crept 2 percent upward in December – the largest December-to-December increase since at least 2006.
The median price for a single family home based on all 2012 sales was $160,000, the figures said. The median price for sales in December was $163,500.
Sales of condominiums also rose during 2012, but at a smaller percentage than single family homes. The prices of condominiums fell 3 percent during the year to a median price of $105,000, but were up 6 percent to $112,000 in December.
Most real estate agents along the Grand Strand are optimistic, said Barry Thigpen, broker in charge for RE/MAX Ocean Forest, whose firm saw a record month for listings in December.
And if those new listings are priced right, there may be a market for them now.
“We believe there’s pent up demand out there,” said Michael Atwood, broker in charge for Coldwell Banker Chicora Real Estate’s office in North Myrtle Beach.
The two acknowledged that the figures look positive now, and they expect things will stay pretty much the same this year.
Atwood said the low interest rates now are helping fuel buying. He said rates in the 2004-2006 boom were from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. Today, they’re half that and mean that people can buy more expensive homes than if the rates were higher.
“People who can afford a $100,000 house now can buy a $140,000 house,” he said.
But banks remain skittish about mortgage lending, and Atwood believes that depresses the local market by as much as 15 percent. He said current bank caution about loans mean there’s a 20 percent fallout, where potential buyers don’t buy because they can’t get loans.
“We traditionally never had more than 3, 4, 5 percent fallout,” he said.
His company requires potential buyers to be prequalified for a loan before his agents will spend time showing them homes.
Thigpen said part of the reason the 2012 numbers look so good is because the 2011 numbers were flat. He said people are reluctant to buy in an election year, waiting until the outcome is certain before making a move.
“I think people know what they’ve got and they’re making decisions to buy or sell,” he said.
That doesn’t mean they like the outcome, he said, it just means they know the rules for the next few years and because of that can be more confident about whatever decision they make.
The sales trends in Horry County generally followed national trends, according to figures from the National Association of Realtors. But the Association noted that many people are looking for bigger in the homes they’re buying while the trend along the Grand Strand is downsizing.
“The Myrtle Beach market is always a little different than the national market,” Thigpen said.
Atwood noted that many of the sales are still in cash, which reflects the banks’ reluctance to lend. He said banks are trying to protect themselves from having to buy back mortgages that Fannie Mae may find questionable.
Atwood said the upward trend in this area could turn south if another major storm hits and insurance rates go up or if gasoline prices reach $4 a gallon.
When that happened three years ago, he said, his company had its worst July ever..