Grand Strand real estate market on the rebound in 2012

There are signs that 2012 could be the year that the long-suffering real estate industry makes a turnaround. Nationwide, homes sales were up last month, with prices leveling off after a steep drop.

Real estate brokers and home builders say home sales are also up on the Grand Strand and they expect that trend to continue, but prices aren't recovering as fast.

Classic Home Building of Myrtle Beach has five new homes under construction, a big improvement over the past couple of years.

The company's president said the home building market hit bottom on the Grand Strand last year and is on the upswing, which means contractors will be hiring.

"Whether they'll be electricians or plumbers or framers, you're going to see them back at work, and I think that's a great thing for the economy, I think it's a great thing for the area," said Berkley White.

White said he's seeing more remodeling and renovation work, too, and more people who are talking about building new homes.

Rod Smith of Chicora Real Estate said the biggest change in the market is that consumer confidence is up.

"Interest rates have remained low, they're at all time record lows, prices are extremely low and people are recognizing that, they're taking advantage of it," Smith said.

Smith said area real estate agents have seen an increase in sales from the north end of the Grand Strand to the south end and in all price ranges. "The upper end above $500,000 is still somewhat challenged, but it is moving," he said.

According to figures from the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors single family home sales were up 5 percent in this area last year, but median prices dropped by 6 percent.

Smith said he thinks prices will level off in 2012 or go up slightly. But he added there are still many foreclosed or distressed properties out there and it will take a long time for the area's real estate market to get back to where it was during the boom years.

But maybe that's not such a bad thing. "That really isn't a healthy market," Smith said. "What you want is a stable market with perhaps six months of inventory out there. Right now, there's a little over 13 months of inventory."

Smith said real estate is supposed to be a long term investment, not a get rich quick scheme and people are starting to realize that.

He cited a recent survey which showed that among homeowners aged 30 to 70, 81 percent think now is a good time to buy real estate.