The number of metropolitan-area houses sold last month virtually tied the figure for November 1990, the first such improvement in 16 months, real estate officials said yesterday.
November 1991 saw 1,235 home sales go to settlement, compared with 1,243 in the same month a year earlier, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said.
"This is the first time since July of 1990 that we've had a break-even," said Nancy C. Hubble, a partner at W. H. C. Wilson & Co. in Baltimore and vice president of the Realtors group.
"I think basically what it means is that the low interest rates and the very high inventory of choice homes for people to buy are encouraging people to come out and purchase homes," Mrs. Hubble said. The typical interest rate for a new mortgage is just under 8 percent, she said.
The number of housing units under contract for sale last month -- 1,086 -- represented a 6 percent increase over the total for November 1990 -- 1,019.
"Most of the activity that I'm seeing is from first-time buyers," Mrs. Hubble said.
There was even increased activity in a segment of the home-buying market that's been sluggish lately -- homeowners moving up to more expensive dwellings, Mrs. Hubble said.
Michael A. Conte, director of the Center for Business and Economic Studies at the University of Baltimore, said last month's statistics were "super."
"Unfortunately, I suspect that that won't hold up. It's very good news, and it's consistent with the national trends for the third quarter. We had a good third quarter pretty much across the board in terms of leading economic indicators, GNP growth, housing starts, etc.
"Unfortunately, things seem to have unraveled a bit since that time," he said, noting that recent polls indicate consumer confidence in the economy is low.
He believes the holiday retail season may be a harbinger for real estate. "I would place a bet on the following: If retail sales through Christmas exceed last year, then we're going to have a real good spring in residential real estate, and [sales] will finally pull ahead of the preceding year," he said.