New-home sales in region fairly strong in first half

September 16, 1990|By Edward Gunts

Despite pessimistic forecasts about the local economy, sale of new homes in the Baltimore area remained relatively strong during the first half of 1990, especially compared with nearby cities where sales have dropped sharply, according to Housing Market Profiles, a comprehensive market study by Legg Mason Realty Group.

Moderately priced condominiums continued to sell well, with six of the area's 10 best-selling projects falling into that category, according to the report. Town houses accounted for the other four projects in the Top 10, marking a continuation of a trend in which the traditional detached suburban house is losing market share to attached and multifamily housing.

Howard County was the only jurisdiction in the Baltimore metropolitan area where new-home sales dropped sharply, and that fall is largely due to a county-imposed cap on the number of building permits issued.

"The news is not as bad as we initially thought it might be," said Robert Lefenfeld, vice president for information services for Legg Mason Realty. "Basically, sales were down in the second quarter of 1990, with 2,230 sales reported. That was down 21 per

cent compared to a surprisingly strong first quarter and down 15 percent from the second quarter of 1989."

But if the sales activity in Howard County is deducted from the figures, sales throughout the rest of the area were actually up 8 percent during the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year, he said. Even including Howard County figures, area sales for the first half of the year were down only 5 percent from area sales in the first half of last year, Mr. Lefenfeld said.

"Overall, the area has remained relatively stable," he said. "We're not in a growth mode. ... But we're in much better shape than the Washington, D.C., market, which has had serious deterioration in sales. And we're doing better than the Philadelphia and Wilmington markets."

Sales in the Washington market during the first half of this year were down 42 percent from the same period of last year. Sales in the Philadelphia market were off 9.2 percent during the first half of this year, as opposed to the same period last year. Second-quarter sales in Philadelphia dropped 21 percent from sales in the first quarter, and in Washington, second-quarter sales were

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down 46 percent from the first quarter, Mr. Lefenfeld said.

He and his associates at Legg Mason said sales in the Baltimore area didn't drop as much as they did in Washington or Philadelphia because the Baltimore market was never as "overheated" as those markets were.

Also, they said, the area's steady growth and diversified economy help buffer it from economic downturns that can have more severe effects on areas dependent on a few industries, such as Boston with its high-technology corridor or New York with Wall Street.

"It's a question of extremes and how far the extreme is away from the center," said Legg Mason Realty senior associate Fritzi Kolker. Other markets, including Washington, Boston and New York, "had farther to fall," she said. "We've just never been that wild."

"We were not as overheated or overblown or as single-industry-dependent as those other markets," Jerry Doctrow, Legg Mason Realty's vice president for research services, said. "We're closer to the national norm."

Legg Mason Realty Group is one of the only local companies to study the market to monitor demographic trends and other changes that affect homebuyers and builders.

Figures for the first half of this year are based on information compiled by Housing Market Profiles project director Kate Weglein, with sales statistics supplied by the builders themselves. The study includes all active for-sale residential properties in subdivisions of 20 or more units in Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties. It does not reflect construction and leasing of rental apartments or custom housing.

According to Legg Mason Realty, the top 10 growth areas during the first half were Edgewood/Joppa, with 654 sales; Bel Air/Fallston, 546; Ellicott City, 293; Crofton, 253; Pikesville, 244; Perry Hall/White Marsh, 243; Reisterstown/Owings Mills, 225; Elkridge, 188; Westminster, 154; and Columbia, 145.

The best-selling community in the first half was Henderson-Webb's Rainflower condominiums in the Sparks-Glencoe area of Baltimore County. The development sold units at an average base price of $105,100.

Other communities in the top 10 were Montgomery Run in Ellicott City by Macks Homes, with 63 sales; Woodbridge Center in Edgewood by H. Carl Stephen Inc., 62; Cromwell Fountain in Glen Burnie by FJS Builders, 60; Laurel Woods in Abingdon by Ryan Homes, 59; and The Pointe in Abingdon by Hendersen-Webb, 59.

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