Sales of new and used homes in the Baltimore area picked up a strong 16 percent in November, signaling what some local realty industry officials say is a genuine revival in the local housing market, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors reported yesterday.
While improved, the home sale market was still in the category of "buyers' market" rather than "sellers' market," cautioned Wesley Foster, chairman of Long & Foster, the second-largest realty chain in the Baltimore market.
"It's not the good old boomy days when you got two or three contracts on a house as you could in '88 or '89. But it's a whole lot better than our worst year, which was 1990," Mr. Foster said.
Specifically, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said that sales settled in November increased 16 percent, to 1,438, compared with the same month last year. Sales pending or under contract in November increased 19 percent, to 1,302 units.
"We've seen traffic go up a bit since the [presidential] election. There was a sense of uncertainty before the election -- by the homebuying public as well as the public at large. But the election brought a feeling of resolution," said Robert Lefenfeld, a vice president with the Baltimore-based Legg Mason Realty Group, which tracks the region's housing market.
Mr. Lefenfeld said "there's a very confident feeling in the air now." He predicted that the same optimism that is pushing shoppers into the malls this Christmas season "will hopefully flow out into home purchasing this winter," though he said that the holiday can be expected to hold up some of the improvement until 1993.
At O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, the largest realty chain in the Baltimore area, chairman James P. O'Conor said recent sales have been especially strong in the $100,000 to $200,000 bracket -- around the mid-point of the Baltimore market.
He cited the White Marsh, Owings Mills and Annapolis areas as active markets and said "all Carroll County is booming."
But realty executives in the region disagree as to whether the upper-end housing market was truly rebounding. Mr. O'Conor said that sales activity for Baltimore-area homes over $250,000 -- which trailed other price categories throughout 1991 -- had increased significantly in the last 30 to 45 days.
On the other hand, Mr. Foster said, "the upper bracket stuff is still spotty -- and sitting longer on the market than the other properties."
"Unemployment and unsettlement" were still acting as a restraining factor on the housing market, though it has definitely improved, Mr. Foster said. "I can say very plainly, it's still not a seller's market."
The dollar volume of settled sales in the Baltimore area increased 14 percent in November, to $182 million. The average price of a home in the area was $126,588, a 1 percent decrease over the 1991 figure.