Home sales hit a three-year high in the metropolitan area in March, rising 27 percent compared with the same month last year, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.
"It isn't a recovering market anymore. The patient is not only well, he's thriving," said James P. O'Conor, chairman of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, a regional real estate firm based in Timonium.
Fletcher R. Hall, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, was quick to point to the new baseball stadium as a reason for a 2 percent increase in sales in the city -- the first upturn in more than a year.
The stadium, Mr. Hall said, "has provided evidence that urban America can still create settings that make people feel good in the city."
"You hear so much about the grime, crime, schools, recessions, job losses and S&L crisis. Here's a piece of good news," he said of the stadium. Home sales have picked up in the Otterbein and Federal Hill communities near the stadium and elsewhere in the city, he said.
There was dramatic improvement in March home sales in Harford and Carroll counties, where settlements jumped 64 percent and 73 percent, respectively, Mr. Hall said.
But those counties "were carrying pretty positive figures even during the downturn," he said.
Settlements rose 26 percent in Baltimore County and 25 percent in Howard County.
Mr. Hall said the local real estate market is recovering but that he does not think it is building to the sales volume reached during the high point of sales for the 1980s, which occurred in 1986.
"I think we're building back toward a normal market, not a peak market," he said.
At O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, Mr. O'Conor described the current state of the housing market as "frenzied."
"There's a tremendous pace of activity -- certainly beyond the normal," he said., March sales at his firm reached their highest level for any month in the firm's eight-year history, he said.
"We are working seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.," said Nancy C. Hubble, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtor's vice president. She said both first-time and move-up buyers were contributing to the sales activity.
For the Baltimore area as a whole, there were 1,484 settled sales in March, up from 1,167 in March 1991. The number of pending sales rose 7 percent last month,to 1,880.
"The fact that pending sales are up means that the positive trend that has begun will probably continue into the peak homebuying season, which normally runs from the end of April to the end of July," Mr. Hall said.
The dollar volume of settled home sales in the region rose 31 percent in March, to $185 million. The average price of a home in the area was 3 percent higher in March 1991 than in March 1992, rising to $124,639 this year.