Market, helped by lower rates, shows signs of life in January

February 16, 1992|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

Aided by a drop in interest rates, the Baltimore area housing market showed signs of revival in January, as the number of homes under contract increased by 36 percent compared with January 1991. A total of 1,486 units were pending sale in January, compared with 1,092 a year ago.

The number of settled sales, however, declined slightly, from 983 to 950. The dollar value of homes settled in January also slipped, from $119 million to $116 million. And the average price of a home sold in January was $122,067, just slightly less than a year earlier.

Statistics on settled sales reflect homes sold in November, before the Federal Reserve's decision in December to lower the discount rate to 3.5 percent.

That dramatic change in the discount rate, the lending rate the Fed charges banks, triggered a drop in mortgage interest rates.

The increase in pending sales can be attributed in part to the lower rates. Another reason for the improvement is that the housing market was depressed last January because of the Persian Gulf war.

Fletcher Hall, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said January sales figures were better than he anticipated. And he speculated that the traditional spring buying season might be starting earlier this year because of low interest rates.

"I believe there is a lot of pent-up demand out there for first-time home buyers," he said.

The number of new listings rose 32 percent in January. There were 3,948 new listings compared with 2,981 the year before.

The figures represent sales of new and existing homes as reported to the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service, a subsidiary of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. The numbers represent houses in the city and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

In Anne Arundel County, the number of settlements in January increased 19 percent, from 148 to 176.

The number of new listings increased 13 percent, from 2,915 to 3,215. The average price of a house sold in Anne Arundel in January was $151,700.

Mr. Hall said home sales will continue to improve if Congress passes the $5,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers proposed by the president.

"The administration has finally realized that housing is the first industry to bring a lagging economy out of the doldrums."

The January improvement followed a 14 percent increase in new-home sales in the Baltimore area during last year's fourth quarter.

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