Aiken real estate market slowly returns to normal after explosive growth during COVID-19

Mar. 17—Three years and five days ago, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the spread of the COVID-19 virus, beginning a series of lockdowns in nearly all 50 states and igniting an explosion in the real estate market.

A Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis chart shows average home prices were mostly flat from the second quarter of 2017 until the third quarter of 2020 when prices began to steadily rise.

Specifically, in the second quarter of 2017, the average home sold for $318,200 and, in the second quarter of 2020, the average home sold for $322,600. By the third quarter of 2020, the average home price was $337,500 and that number would continue to grow to a peak of $468,000 in the third quarter of 2022.

Data from the Aiken Association of Realtors shows the average sales price was $222,494 in February 2020. By February 2022, the average sales price increased more than $100,000 to $323,070.

Julie Whitesell, broker-in-charge at the Aiken Meybohm real estate office, said the COVID-19 market was crazy. She said she disagreed when someone recently said to her that being a real estate agent during the COVID-19 market was easy. Whitesell said a seller's agent had to help the seller learn how to navigate through multiple offers and a buyer's agent had to go back to their client sometimes 10 or 11 times and tell the buyer that the offer didn't win.

Cash, Whitesell said, was king.

"You would not believe the amount of closings that were cash," Whitesell said. "Price is not so much what's important. Cash, often times, will win over a financing any day."

Now, three years later, the market is finally returning to normal.

The number of new listings, pending sales, closed sales and percentage of list price received are almost the same as they were in February 2020. Specifically, the number of new listings was 296 in February 2020 and was 292 in February 2023. The number of pending sales was 275 in February 2023 compared to 269 in February 2020. The number of closed sales was 194 in February 2020 and 198 in February 2023. And the percentage of list price received was 97% in February 2020 and was 97.6% in February 2023.

Prices, though, are still higher than they were in February of 2020. The average sales price of an Aiken home was $222,494 in February 2020 and the average price was $300,022 in February 2023.

Whitesell, Diane Miniard and Gail Gingrey said many potential buyers were priced out of the market but have come back in, keeping prices higher. Whitesell added now that the cash buyers are out of the market, it's a more level playing field.

Gingrey said the hottest price range is from $200,000-$350,000.

"That's probably the most popular and the hardest to find," Gingrey said. "We are seeing a lot of first-time homebuyers that we haven't been able to see for two years because the market was so high."

Gingrey added the strength of the COVID-19 market also depleted the inventory of homes available.

In February 2020, there was 4.2 months of inventory on the market. In February 2023, there were 2.7 months of inventory available.

Whitesell and Gingrey both added they expected the Aiken market to remain resilient because of the industrial growth, the equine industry, retirement community and the Savannah River Site.