Housing can’t keep pace with explosive population growth in this South Carolina town

Bluffton, South Carolina is historically known as a place between here and there. Located on the banks of the May River, it’s been largely eclipsed by Savannah, Georgia, about a 30-minute drive away, and Hilton Head Island, the Lowcountry’s tourist mecca brimming with beaches and natural splendor.

“Before COVID, the majority of people I worked with were either locals or planning to retire,” said Beth Drake, a local. Keller Williams agent. “Now I see families. I’ve helped a lot of families from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Pennsylvania, different areas and they’re moving here because the parents can work from home. So they are enjoying the outdoors and our school system, which has been open throughout the pandemic. So I feel like the demographics are changing in that it’s gotten a lot younger.

Since 2010, Bluffton’s population has nearly tripled to around 34,000, making it one of the fastest growing cities in America and stepping out of Hilton Head’s shadow.

But growth comes at a cost: this influx of new residents and potential buyers has strained the community’s housing market. According to Hilton Head Area Realtors Associationthe median home sale price jumped 15.3% in 2021 to $330,745.

“It’s extremely hot,” said Tim Peirce, another local Keller Williams real estate agent. “The agents on my team have to be extremely competitive when making offers. One of my agents has a client who is making an offer on a home that will likely end up over the list price by over $250,000 and most of that we see is either all cash offers or the elimination of contingencies.

Previously seen as just a stopover on the way to the vacation destination of Hilton Head, Bluffton’s housing market began to take off in the mid-2000s, just in time for the Great Recession of 2008.

“We have just hit rock bottom, stagnant in 2010”, local RE/MAX said officer Lea Allen. “It started to come back to life in 2015 and then it continued at a normal pace, picking up speed every year thereafter until COVID. At first I thought it was going to be like 2007, 2008 and the market was going to crash, but then it’s just the opposite.

With the total number of closed sales in the general Bluffton area up 8.1% year over year, the housing market here has rebounded. At the same time, however, stocks continue to decline. In the greater Hilton Head area, inventory fell 50.8% year-over-year in 2021, ending the year with just 483 active listings. However, there are signs of a new offering hitting the market.

“Despite the fact that we continue to lose inventory, new listings continue to increase and pending sales continue to increase,” Peirce said. “So we’re selling more homes, but the inventory is moving so quickly and it’s so competitive that we continue to be extraordinarily low.”

These conditions of high demand and tight inventories spurred bidding wars and the more widespread use of escalation clauses.

“The bidding wars are pretty constant,” Peirce said. “It might be 10 offers, it might be five, it really depends on the property, but I’ve been in this business here for 19 years and in the past it wasn’t common to see escalation clauses and over the course of of the past couple of years it’s been very common to see escalation clauses or giving the seller the option to stay in the house One of my agents actually just wrote an offer a few weeks ago on a home that was listed for just under $1.1 million and the winning bid was $150,000 above the asking price with no contingencies and gave the seller six months free occupancy.

All of this, of course, has meant things are tough for first-time home buyers. The day I spoke with Drake, she told me there were only nine properties on the market in Bluffton for less than $600,000.

“First-time home buyers are unfortunately excluded,” Drake said. “When we deal with first-time home buyers, they end up having to go to a developer and construction times are currently around a year. But most first-time home buyers aren’t in a position to forego appraisals or make much more money through financing. It was really frustrating for first-time buyers.

While local agents would like to see market conditions ease, especially for first-time buyers, they don’t see the market slowing anytime soon. The state of South Carolina had the third highest percentage of inbound movements in 2021 (63%), according to US News and World Report.

“We don’t see any reason to slow down,” Allen said. “People come to our state for all the open spaces, the beach, just the ability to get outside and breathe.”

Peirce added, “I believe our market has been misunderstood and undervalued for a very long time. I think our market has a lot to offer and it’s always great value. As we head into spring, I expect to see continued appreciation and hopefully we continue to see more announcements hitting the market, but I think it’s going to be really competitive and the buyer going to have to move fast to get a house. »