How is the Aiken area's real estate market doing? Is it still struggling in the wake of the Great Recession or is it starting to recover and regain momentum?


Jack Wills, who recently moved here from Michigan, offered some thoughts recently. He and his wife, Lynne, are renting a house while getting ready to build a new 6,000- to 5,000-square-foot Dutch Colonial home next to a green on the historic Aiken Golf Club.


The Aiken real estate market “is a lot like it is in the rest of the country; it seems to be improving,” Wills said. “But I don't think it's really moving along at a fast pace by any stretch of the imagination.”


Wills, 60, retired from an executive position with the Masco Corporation in the building products industry seven years ago, but stays busy serving on four boards. He and Lynne recently sold their Michigan house, but they still own a lot in Aiken's Cedar Creek community where they decided not to build. It has been on the market for about three years.


“I don't think the real estate values are as depressed in Aiken as they are, perhaps, in other parts of the country because of the desirability of the town,” Wills said. “There are lots of good golf courses, and you don't have to put your winter coat on to walk your dog in January.”


“But I don't think the real estate values here have appreciated much either,” Wills said.


Economic conditions elsewhere are preventing local real estate values from enjoying a significant surge in growth, according to Wills.


“The people Aiken is most likely to appeal to are the ones in the North who are retiring and looking to move to a warmer place,” he said. “But they are unable to sell their homes up there because of the recession, and that has reduced the number of buyers in Aiken.”


The Aiken Board of Realtors recently released a report of monthly indicators for March showing that new listings in the area increased 1.5 percent from last year to 276. Pending sales were up 10.4 percent to 148.


The median sale price for a home decreased less than 1 percent to $141,000. Days on the market fell 10 percent to 197.


“Right now, the houses under $200,000 are moving fairly decently and that's a good sign,” said Kristyne Shelton, association executive for the Board of Realtors. “It wasn't that way a year or two ago. Sometimes the houses under $150,000 move the fastest and in a really poor market; the $100,000 to $125,000 and under range moves the fastest.”


Shelton also reported that Realtors she has spoken with are “busier than I've seen them in the last couple of years with both buyers and sellers.”


Diane Miniard of Meybohm Realtors said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the Aiken area real estate market. She sold two homes, one for more than $200,000 and the other for more than $300,000, the final weekend in April.


“The market is better than it's been in three years,” said Miniard, who is the Board of Realtors' president. “But I just haven't seen enough consistency to be convinced that there has been a complete turnaround yet. Mortgage rates are still low, so you would think we would be extremely busy, but we're not. It's still considered more of a buyers' market than it is a sellers' market right now.”


Mike Hosang of the Carolina Real Estate Company reported seeing “a good bit of traffic from buyers and sellers” in an Aiken market he believes is “improving slightly.” One positive development, he said, is that bankers seem to be “a little more flexible” in their lending practices.


Buyers returning to the real estate market tend to be cautious, according to Hosang.


“At one time, during the peak, people were coming to Aiken and making commitments over the weekend or in three days,” Hosang said. “Now out-of-town folks are taking months or years to make a decision. People who are second homebuyers are stepping down a little bit in price range. Everybody is shopping aggressively for what is a real value in their minds.”


To Jack Oldham, who moved here from Southern California's Orange County last August with his wife Melanie, real estate values in this area are “terrific.” The couple purchased a three-bedroom brick colonial home of about 3,100 square feet on a nearly 12 -acre site.


Jack is a retired CPA and Melanie is a semi-retired CPA and attorney.


“I think we got a great deal,” Jack Oldham said. “We had a similar-sized house in California on a little over a quarter acre of land and this house was half the price of that house. It was a bargain, very much so.”