Home contracts in area went up 6.6% last month

December 05, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

The number of metropolitan-area housing units under contract for sale last month -- 1,086 -- represented a 6.6 percent increase over the total for November 1990, real estate officials said yesterday.

And the number of houses that actually went to settlement last month virtually tied the figure for November 1990, producing the best month-to-month comparison in 16 months, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said.

November 1991 saw 1,235 home sales go to settlement, compared with 1,243 in the same month a year earlier, the board 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. 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.

"Most of the activity that I'm seeing is from first-time buyers," Mrs. Hubble said. "Transferees are always strong buyers . . . they're still coming into Baltimore and the Baltimore area."

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.

Mr. Conte 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.

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