County builders say they're starting to see an upturn in the housingmarket and are optimistic the move signals a period of steady growth.
The end of the Persian Gulf war, warmer weather and lower interest rates have encouraged more people to invest in new homes, said SueStephens, vice president of lending at Reisterstown Federal Savings Bank.
"People are thinking positively. They feel good about the economy," she said.
"We think people should still be cautious, but indications say our economy is definitely improving in the housing market,"Stephens said.
County records show the number of residential building permits applied for in the first quarter of this year were up 46percent from the fourth quarter of last year.
Builders applied for 145 permits in the first quarter of this year and 78 in the fourth quarter of last year.
But first-quarter numbers this year lagged behind first-quarter numbers from last year by 67 percent, the records show. Last year, builders applied for 437 permits in the first quarter.
Carroll County's housing market has been in a recession for about a year-and-a-half, said Mike Maholchic, president of the county chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. It's about timefor the market here to improve, he said.
"Housing is the first thing to improve when we're coming out of a recession. We're at least at a plateau," Maholchic said. "But I'm an eternal optimist."
Maholchic said he plans to build a model home soon for a new development off Western Chapel Road outside Westminster. He said he's not worried he'll build the house and then have no prospective buyers.
"I'm not afraid of it. I'm fairly encouraged. I don't think we'll have the boom of the '80s, but I think we'll have stable growth, which I like to see," he said.
Maholchic is planning to build eight homes ranging from $200,000 to $300,000 on three-acre lots in Deihl Wood Estates.He also is building homes in Finksburg and Mount Airy.
Marc Silverman, a partner with James Cafritz Inc. in Rockville, Montgomery County, said his company is starting to build nine homes in Willow Pond Estates in Westminster.
"This is the typical time people buy houses-- the weather is better," he said, adding that he doesn't think thewar has been a factor in the housing market.
Silverman expects sales to continue to improve this year, but said the numbers may never again reach those of the 1980s, when Carroll County experienced a building boom.
"If the last eight years are considered normal, we maynever be normal again," he said.
Dottie Wells, manager of the O'Conor Piper and Flynn Realtors office in Westminster, said agents couldn't handle the volume of calls from prospective buyers last Saturdaywhen the weather was warm and sunny.
"A lot may be the attitude of people in general, particularly with the war. The whole country seemed to pull together. A lot of us felt warm thoughts seeing all the flags and yellow ribbons."
After the war, people didn't seem so worried about the economy, Wells said.
Ronald E. Bailey, president ofBPR Inc., an engineering company in Westminster, said business beganpicking up in March.
"It appears things have bottomed out, and we're heading back up very slowly.
"We're not swamped with large, new projects," but more work is coming in, he said.
BPR does planning and construction work for subdivisions.
Jeffrey B. Powers of Powers Construction Co. in Westminster said sales in the last eight weeks have improved.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand," he said.
He's building six homes in Eldersburg and six in Sykesville ranging from $129,900 to $214,000. All have been sold, he said.
Reisterstown Federal, which has a branch in Eldersburg, is not financing speculative building because the housing supply still is adequate, Stephens said.
Psychology plays a part in an area's economic vitality, she added.
"A positive attitude is a key ingredient to a healthy economy," she said. "People feel good now. The war was satisfactorily resolved, and interest rates are down."
Interest rates are below 10 percent, Stephens said.
"It's not perfect, but it's getting better," she said of the market.