Sales of existing homes rose 2 percent in most of the Baltimore area in April, marking the first time in 13 months that sales in a given month have been higher than in the same month the year before.
The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said the news on April sales was a clear sign that the local housing market has begun to shake off the torpor that dogged it through the fall and winter.
"The increase in pending units under contract reflects a busy spring," said Brandon F. Gaines, president of the board. "The Baltimore residential market is definitely beginning to experience a turnaround."
Mr. Gaines said increased consumer confidence is leading the recovery. "They perceive that we've bottomed out. Rates are down, and people hopefully think we're coming out of this."
Mr. Gaines said that markets for homes priced below $200,000 continue to be stronger than higher ranges, though he said the upper levels are stronger now than they have been recently.
Overall, buyers and sellers reached 1,805 contracts to sell homes listed with the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service in April. That compares with 1,752 the previous month and 1,757 in April 1990. Only 1,092 contracts were reached in January. The data cover only those jurisdictions served by the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service -- Baltimore and Baltimore, Carroll, Howard, Harford and Kent counties.
The average price of a home sold in April rose 2 percent from April 1990, to $123,708.
Michael A. Conte, an economist, said the report is good news for the regional economy. But while the housing market is a leading indicator of the economy, a housing upturn isn't proof by itself that the end of the recession locally is at hand, he said.
"Unfortunately, the others [leading indicators] are not doing that well," said Dr. Conte, director of the University of Baltimore's Center for Business and Economic Studies. "Initial unemployment claims are up locally and nationally, help-wanted ads are down nationally and locally, substantially." He said orders for durable goods also have been weak.