Wednesday, February 15, 2012

S.C. home prices up in January, Realtors group says

South Carolina Realtors reported Wednesday that home prices have started the year on an "up note."

The median sales price in South Carolina rose to $145,000 in January, up 3.4 percent compared to last year, according to the trade group.

Pending sales rose 19.7 percent to 4,024 and the number of days a home was on the market fell .6 percent to 143 days versus the same time last year.

Inventory levels shrank 15.2 percent to 47,916 housing units, and months of supply of inventory fell 16.9 percent to 11.7 months during the same time. A healthy housing market is thought to have six months of inventory.

"The media sometimes obsesses over the negatives, but last year brought several important improvements in key metrics that should not be brushed aside, such as an improved inventory picture," the group wrote in its report. "As we delve into a new year, we're seeing mostly positive signs."

The statistics do not include shadow inventory, distressed homes that aren't yet on the market. Shadow inventory includes homes that are crawling through the foreclosure process, properties that have been foreclosed on but not put up for sale, or houses whose borrowers are so delinquent they are unlikely to recover. Such homes are typically excluded from monthly sales statistics compiled by trade groups.

An Observer analysis found the seven counties surrounding Mecklenburg had more than 17,300 homes in shadow inventory at the end of last year. In contrast, the seven counties had 8,636 homes listed for sale.

Lancaster County in South Carolina led the region with nearly four times the amount of shadow inventory as for-sale listings.

Shadow inventory is not a new phenomenon. But because of the housing meltdown and recession, banks are taking back a record number of homes. The foreclosure pipeline is also swelling as banks take longer to complete foreclosures and more borrowers fall behind on their loans. When shadow inventory comes on the market, it typically sells at a steep discount, depressing values.

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