When the county's Community Development office turned away droves ofpotential homebuyers from a pilot homebuyers workshop last week, that told county officials something.
People in search of their firsthome -- young couples and longtime renters -- are out there. And they're looking.
"There's definitely a need out there," said Beth Harber, community development projects planner, who added that the county never expected the overwhelming response to a two-session workshop that started last Monday in Glen Burnie.
"Housing prices are low, and sellers are willing to negotiate. Interest rates are lower than they've been for 10 years. It gets people thinking."
Although second quarter sales in Anne Arundel County rose slightly, most prospective buyers still are doing little more than just thinking. The number of prospects hasn't translated into enough sales to boost the slumping residential real estate market, realty agents say.
Patti Ziegler, an agent at Long & Foster in Glen Burnie, has had three prospective buyers cancelsales contracts she has written.
"It's because of fear," she said. "They don't feel good about the economy."
A newly released report by the Maryland Association of Realtors says that more homes are available for sale than before.
During April, May and June, Anne Arundel County had an average of 500 more homes on the market than it did in the same quarter last year, when an average of 2,731 homes were for sale.
"We are choked with inventory," said Lynn Dulin, president of the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors. "Any buyer cantell me what area and what price range, and we can find you a home."
The state association's statewide report on sales and housing inventory says, "Sooner or later, this higher inventory should be reflected in decreasing sales prices, but it is an economic fact that prices are 'sticky in a downwards direction.' "
Sticky or not, county home prices have dropped below last year's levels. Dulin attributes the fall more to homes appreciating at a slower rate than to prices being cut.
An Anne Arundel County home sold for an average of $151,500 from April through June, compared with an average price of $163,700during the same quarter last year. Average home prices were higher in Howard, Montgomery, Queen Anne's and Talbot counties, the state association says.
While sales have slacked off in most of the more heavily populated, surrounding counties, sales increased in Anne Arundel. During the quarter, 14.4 percent more homes sold than during thosemonths last year.
The state association reported 1,050 home settlements in the quarter, more than the 918 settlements for the same period in 1990.
"This county has not done as poorly as the D.C. metroarea" because of its location and prices, Ziegler said. "A lot of people are coming from the metro area and moving into Anne Arundel County. You can make deals right now."
Dulin says that because the county has fared better than other counties and the state as a whole, "reflects the perception of Anne Arundel as a good place to live" with a good selection of homes.
She expects a pent-up demand on the buyers' side to help sales pick up even more in the next three months.
"There is no reason for anyone to wait to buy," said Zeigler, adding that lenders have been more willing to work with buyers plagued with credit problems. "Lenders aren't as busy. They're taking time to work things out."