Beth and Drew Mason knew exactly what they wanted.
Granite countertops, updated bathrooms, a finished basement, three bedrooms, hardwood floors, a two-car garage and ample outdoor space for entertaining were all part of a must-have list the couple shared with their Realtor.
"That we could find all of that for less than $200,000 in a good school district was amazing," Beth Mason said.
The couple recently purchased their first home in the Dallastown School District - one of the areas of York County with the fastest-moving housing inventory.
Throughout this year and most of last year, Dallastown has led York County school districts in the number of homes sold each month, according to statistics from the Realtors Association of York & Adams Counties. The statistics also show strong sales in Central York and York Suburban school districts.
As those sales continue to climb, the county's inventory of listed homes continues to drop - a good sign for local housing market, said John LeCates, president of the Realtors association.
"It's reason to be optimistic," he said.
Buying time: Summer months see the most listings, as owners hope to reap the benefits of buyers looking to move in before the school year begins, he said.
Even though vacations can slow sales a little in July and August, buyers are taking advantage of record-low mortgage rates and affordable price tags, he said.
From January through June, the county's home sales rose by 7 percent compared to the same time period in 2011, as buyers seized home loans at 3.75 percent interest rates.
"This is absolutely a good time to buy," said Teresa Gregory, managing director of mortgage services at York Traditions Bank.
First-time buyers have a number of factors in their favor, she said. Mortgage rates are at an all-time low, many lenders offer a lot of good programs for first-time buyers, and home prices are low, she said.
"Have home prices hit their bottom? I don't know. But they're certainly near the bottom. That combined with low interest rates makes it affordable to buy a home today," she said.
But how much longer it will remain a buyer's market is the question, she said.
Fewer on market: Having less inventory drives home values, resulting in higher prices for buyers, LeCates said.
With 515 fewer houses on the market last month than were listed in June 2011, median home prices in York County edged up by 3 percent. The median home price was $151,000 in June.
The National Association of Realtors is also reporting an increase in home sales and home values across the country, as housing markets continue to improve throughout the U.S.
Though there are still a lot of foreclosures, sales are rebounding in hard-hit areas, such as Miami, Arizona, Las Vegas and California, according to association statistics.
As the country's housing market bounces bank, interest rates will start to climb again. Buyers probably have a year left of interest rates hovering at or below 4 percent, Gregory said.
Programs: York Traditions Bank offers several programs to buyers, she said.
Through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, buyers can qualify for low-interest loans while also receiving assistance with a down payment and closing costs, she said.
Earlier this month, the housing agency announced a special incentive to increase its offerings. Buyers of new homes can apply for closing-cost assistance of up to $6,000 - an uptick from the $4,000 available through the agency for buyers of existing homes.
The initiative is designed to help home buyers and spur growth among Pennsylvania home builders, according to Brian Hudson, CEO and executive director of the housing finance agency.
"Homebuyers today are looking at one of the best housing markets in decades," he said. "We all will benefit from more activity in the state's residential construction sector, since it will produce a positive ripple effect throughout our communities."
- Candy Woodall can also be reached at email@example.com.