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Home prices rise despite expectations of decrease

While February sales are down from 2006, prices are still up from last year.

"It's a phenomenon," said Tom Maeser, market analyst and president of the Fortune Academy of Real Estate. "I thought for sure by now we'd see a price decrease."

In February, 326 homes and 247 condos sold on the Grand Strand, down from February 2006 when 455 homes sold and 420 condos, according to the Multiple Listing Service for Horry and Georgetown counties.

Both average and median price, however, increased for homes and condos year-over-year. Median price means half the homes sold for more and half for less.

The median price of a home on the Strand increased to $210,000 from $191,000 and the median price of a condo jumped to $182,500 from $165,900.

The increases mean consumers are willing to pay today's prices, which seem to have stabilized, Maeser said.

"Prices did go up fairly fast in 2005 and 2006 because we were so far below market. They've leveled off, and we're not seeing tremendous increases. But we're seeing a more normal market. Consumers must still feel that where prices are at is OK. They're willing to pay

that," Maeser said.

February sales are also down slightly compared to January. But there are signs of improvement in the number of days condos are listed on the market.

It took condos 335 days on average to sell in January, but 238 days in February.

The number of days single family homes stayed on the market remained the same for January and February at 160 days.

And while inventory - the number of homes on the market - dropped in the fall, it seems to be rising again.

There are 5,400 single family homes on the market, compared with 4,848 at the end of the fourth quarter. Condo inventory climbed to 9,366 from 8,654 at the end of the fourth quarter.

This time of year inventory generally increases, said Don Schunk, research economist at Coastal Carolina University.

"It's a tough time of the year to read too much into that inventory number. This is the time of year when people put homes on the market. People are now just starting to look in earnest," he said.

Michelle Hallstrom, broker-in-charge of The Hallstrom Group in Murrells Inlet, said the market is looking like a normal February - when listings increase for the spring buying season.

"It's a regular, normal, healthy market. Days on market has increased, but that's not a bad thing. It puts us back to like it was three years ago. Prices are holding, and it's taking longer to sell," Hallstrom said.

It's a different market on the oceanfront. That condo market is still seeing price declines and longer waits to sell, she said.

She expects it will be next summer before that market will get better.

Hallstrom's glad to see a slowing in new construction from the earlier fast pace inland.

Some sellers are dropping prices for single-family homes, which has given workers more affordable options.

"Now we have some product below $150,000. I wish we had more of them," she said.

Schunk said the market still has to work through a spike in building from the first half of 2006 until the inventory gets absorbed.

"The next few months will be very interesting as far as the pace of home sales. I look for it to pick up," he said.