More people bought homes in York, Chester and Lancaster counties last month than in February 2009 - another signal that the local housing market is getting stronger just in time for the spring and summer buying seasons.
There were 142 homes sold in the tri-county area in February, a 10 percent increase over the 129 sold during the same time last year, according to data released Tuesday by S.C. Realtors.
Month-to-month, however, only two more homes were sold in February than in January, the data shows.
Year to date, local home sales are up more than 6 percent over 2009. Statewide, home sales are up 13.8 percent over this time last year.
"It's definitely a better market right now than it was last year at this time," said Carmen Miller, a Century 21 First Choice agent in the Fort Mill-Tega Cay area, noting that homes priced below $300,000 are generally performing well.
"It's a little exciting. You hate to be overconfident, but it's showing good signs."
The federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers led to a boost in sales around the state at the end of 2009 and continues to breed success locally. The credit period, which already was extended once, expires at the end of next month.
"We're hoping the momentum continues after April 30," Miller said. "We're seeing the (spring) surge much sooner than our normal surge. The unknown is what's going to happen afterward."
But it's safe to say that the worst is over for the local housing market and that recovery is under way, said Butch Brindel, CEO of the Piedmont Regional Association of Realtors. The arrival of spring brings even more optimism, he said.
"We'll see sales start to increase, particularly during April, May and June," Brindel said. "We'll get a pretty good idea of how the year's going to work based on those sales numbers."
Not only are more homes selling, the prices are generally trending upward.
Though the median price of local homes dipped in February, it remains at around $140,000 for the year, a $3,000 increase over this time last year. Local sale prices also continue to be higher than the state average, which was $134,000 in February and is at $137,000 for the year.
Despite those bits of good news, it's taking longer for local homes to sell. For the year, houses are spending an average of 174 days on the market, an increase of nearly a month over this time in 2009 and 21 days longer than the state average.
The reason is a mystery to Brindel, but he expects it's just an anomaly.
"We'll see next month whether that holds true," he said. "We don't know what has changed to make that go up, because our inventory is relatively constant."
Though Brindel is confident the area has moved out of the nationwide housing crisis that began in 2008, there's still a long way to go.
If recent sales patterns hold true for the rest of the year, the area would see around 3,500 homes sold during 2010, Brindel said. That would be on par with 2001 levels. In contrast, 2007 had around 5,400 transactions.
"How long it'll take us to get to where we were in 2007, which was one of the best years we've had," he said, "it's just going to be hard to tell."