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Wednesday, March 01, 2006 - Last Updated: 7:17 AM

January home sales hit a record

Charleston region fares well in cooling national market


The Post and Courier

The number of existing homes sold in the Charleston region surpassed the 1,000 level in January, a first for that month, while the national housing market showed more signs of a slowdown.

The National Association of Realtors released new data Tuesday showing sales of all types of existing homes fell about 5 percent in January to 6.56 million units compared to the same period last year. The median price for the nation was $211,000, the same as December and up about 12 percent on a year-to-year basis.

The association said it had expected the slowdown based on its running tally of existing home sales that have not yet closed. The volume of deals in the pipeline has been on the decline since hitting a record in August, said David Lereah, the group's chief economist.

"In the wake of interest rates peaking in November, I expect we are in a bit of a trough that may be followed by a modest rise and then a general plateau in the level of sales activity," Lereah said in a statement Tuesday. "Existing home sales should stay below the record levels experienced over the last two years, but they'll maintain a historically high pace."

The South was the only region where home sales increased in January compared with a year earlier.

The Palmetto State did its part, with 4,258 residences changing hands, up almost 5 percent compared to the first four weeks of 2005. The statewide median price increased 15 percent to $153,000, according to figures compiled by the South Carolina Association of Realtors.

"We are outperforming the country dramatically," said Jim Peters, chief executive of the Columbia-based group.

Even so, activity was mixed in key housing markets around the state.

The greater Charleston region posted a 9 percent increase in sales, closing 1,037 transactions in January, while the median price came in at about $200,000, a year-over-year gain of 11 percent.

But at opposite ends of the coast, it appears the condominium-buying craze is starting to sputter. In the Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island areas, home sales last month were off 14 percent and 29 percent, respectively, even as prices have increased.

"We have some areas of the state where we saw frenzied activity in the summer last year," Peters said. "That's where we saw a marked slowdown, a leveling off."

He was quick to note, though, that "those markets have not collapsed. They're moving from a dramatic seller's market to what I call a neutral market," he said.

The national existing home sales figures followed a Commerce Department report Monday that found sales of newly built homes also fell in January by 5 percent. Many analysts viewed the new data as further evidence that the U.S. housing market, after hitting record sales levels for five consecutive years, has definitely started to cool.

Peters' group has predicted that South Carolina home sales this year will finish between the record results of 2005 and the strong performance of 2004.


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