York’s housing market is rising

Consumer confidence is stimulating a sluggish York County housing market, say those who make and sell homes.In the last few months, homebuilders have started – or announced plans to start – construction in several subdivisions. Baxter Village near Fort Mill, one of York County’s most popular communities, is almost built out. So far this year, David Weekly Homes, one of the initial builders there, has sold 25 homes in Baxter, the total number it sold there for all of 2011.“We were at the bottom a year ago,” said Bob Zweier, president of Saussy Burbank, one of the builders in Baxter Village near Fort Mill and Riverwalk in Rock Hill. “We’ve bounced off the bottom, and it’s a slow, tedious, sometimes painful progress forward.”Mart Vitner, an economist with Well Fargo Securities in Charlotte, said current regional housing inventory is selling quickly with some sellers getting “two to three bids above the asking price.” With job growth in the south Charlotte areas of Ballantyne and South Park, “I’m not surprised that folks are choosing to live in South Carolina,” he said.“This is the real deal. We have bottomed out.”The number of current building permits and home sales is nowhere near the highs of 2003, 2004 and 2005, when single-family permits topped the 3,000 mark. But like those banner years, York County – and Fort Mill specifically – is a desired place to build and buy because of quality schools, low taxes and proximity to Charlotte.In the first three months of 2012, there were 245 single-family permits issues in York County, compared to 180 for the first quarter of 2011. The value these permits, respectively, is $68.2 million compared to $47.2 million.Mortgage rates are at historic lows – as little as 3.7 percent for a 30-year fixed loan – but they have been low for several years, and that didn’t convince people to buy.What’s changed, say those in the industry, is consumers have overcome the fears caused by a stumbling economy. Pent-up demand for new housing is being released.“It’s an amazing time to be a homeowner,” said Realtor Pam Morrell of Keller Williams Realty in Rock Hill. “It’s time to take advantage of everything: low interest rates, affordability. Builders are throwing in everything, too. They will deal.”Even with tightening credit standards because of the subprime market meltdown, people can get loans, she said.Under the right circumstance, a homeowners can trade up to bigger houses and cut their mortgage payments, Morrell said.The optimism is tempered, even after five good months of home sales.Potential threats to the local economy are the European monetary crisis and local layoffs at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte and Santander Consumer USA in Fort Mill, economists and developers said.A fear that foreclosures might surge locally is another threat to the market, said Mekael Teshome, an economist with PNC Bank. But, “we haven’t seen that fear. It’s a trickle, not a tsunami. The risk is contained,” he said.

By Don Worthington, Staff Reporter with The Herald