By Steve Jones
CONWAY — Katie Appeldorn said she was trying to visualize her furniture in the Conway house she toured for the second time Thursday afternoon.
Stooped down by one of the home’s three fireplaces, she was envisioning which bedroom would be hers, which would be her son’s and where she could set up a place to write that had a vibe conducive to creative productivity.
She said she considered buying a home in Little River or North Myrtle Beach, but chose Conway because she’s rented a place there for a while and feels cozy with the town and its residents.
“I think it’s just a nice little place to live,” she said.
So, apparently, do many of the people who bought a home along the Grand Strand so far this year.
According to a matrix prepared by SiteTech Systems in Myrtle Beach, the Conway area led all others locally in sales volume growth when comparing the first nine months of 2013 with the same period in 2012.
Paul Schroeder, Appeldorn’s Realtor, said the Conway market is on track to tally the sale of more than 900 single family homes this year. To date, he said, 729 sales have closed and another 189 are pending. In 2012, there were 669 total single family home sales in Conway, and just 591 in 2011, Schroeder said.
It’s a welcome turnaround, said Nancy Lee, Schroeder’s boss and owner at Century 21 McAlpine Associates. The recession brought some dark days to the Conway real estate market, she said, and it’s nice now to see the sun shining on each day’s prospects.
Lee and others said that Conway’s relatively low real estate prices bring a lot of new residents.
Indeed, SiteTech Systems’ third quarter market report showed that the median list price of $145,000 was the lowest in Horry County and lower than all Georgetown areas except for the western part of the county. The median price is when half of the homes sale for more and half sale for less.
The median sales price in Conway for the third quarter was $140,990, and only the Loris/Aynor area at $124,450 and western Georgetown, $30,500 were lower along the Grand Strand.
By contrast, the report said the third quarter median sales price was $146,500 in Forestbrook/Socastee, $167,450 in the city of Georgetown, $265,000 in Myrtle Beach and $330,000 in Pawleys Island/Litchfield.
Generally, sales volume growth was higher in the areas with the lowest median list and sales prices.
Another factor bringing buyers to Conway is its quality of life, laid back and community centered rather than more fast paced and beach oriented as is much of the area east of the Intracoastal Waterway.
“It’s a quaint little town that kind of has it all,” said Schroeder.
He and others cited its closeness to the excitement and ocean eastward as another plus for Conway, but Schroeder said growing traffic congestion could cause Conway’s luster to dim if the area isn’t aggressive about building roads to keep up with the growing population.
But Conway and western Horry have yet another factor buyers can’t find east of the Waterway: space.
Marvin Heyd, president of Prudential Myrtle Beach Real Estate, said one of his company’s recent customers moved to Horry from Washington, D.C., and could afford to have settled into an oceanfront home. But they ended up moving to Loris and buying acreage, going for a quiet and privacy factor that isn’t as easily found farther eastward.
Heyd said Myrtle Beach Real Estate opened an office in Conway this year, and business is up 35 percent from what it was at first. It’s so good, he said, that he’s looking for more Realtors to help the growing number of Conway buyers find the right place to live.
Commercial real estate is picking up as well, said Charley Ray of Ray Realty. He said that commercial real estate usually follows what’s happening with residential real estate, and in just the last 90 days he’s noticed a marked improvement.
“We still have lots of vacancies,” he said, “but I’m beginning to see some (commercial buildings) fill up that have been vacant for two to three years.”
He said he can’t tell yet if the commercial uptick is an anomaly or trend, but recent activity has him optimistic.
Schroeder and Shirley Terry, a Realtor at Re/Max Ocean Forest who specializes in Conway real estate, said many of their residential customers are retirees primarily from the Northeast.
“They’re tired of the cold weather,” Terry said.
Schroeder said a good number of them have finally realized that the price of the homes they’re leaving isn’t going to appreciate as fast as they went down when the real estate bubble burst and have decided not to wait any longer to relocate. Homes are at least selling where they’re coming from and the prices here are still relatively low.
Terry noted that more Conway residents as well seem to be responding to the improving market and are putting their homes up for sale. In her neighborhood alone, she said, there are five homes on the market.
Schroeder said Conway area builders are working to keep up with the demand as well.
He said 80 new homes have been built just this year in the Burning Ridge subdivision and that other developments where activity stopped during the recession are now seeing new construction activity as are subdivisions in other parts of Horry County.
“I’m delighted that there’s more business,” Terry said.
But her delight extends beyond Realtors.
An active real estate market, she said, “means other people are doing better too.”