Baltimore area home sales dropped 15% last month

April 13, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

Home sales for the Baltimore market slid during March. But economists and local real estate executives blame bad weather for the drop and say the spring selling season should be strong.

"March was an aberration. Spring looks wonderful," said Nancy Hubble, president-elect of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

The board reported yesterday that the number of settled home sales for the Baltimore region dropped 15 percent in March compared with the same month last year. Pending home sales also dropped, by 11 percent for the month.

The numbers cover both new and used homes sold in the Baltimore region, except for Anne Arundel County.

"We're going into spring extremely well-poised for the spring buying season," said Michael Conte, director of the regional economic studies program at the University of Baltimore.

He said that severe winter weather caused several economic indicators to drop for the local region in March. "We had a lot of monthly reversals, including new-home starts and housing permits, which both took March drops," Mr. Conte noted.

Mr. Conte said that several fundamentals are still very positive for local residential real estate sales, including the strengthening of job growth in the region and low mortgage rates. Because of these factors, the spring selling season should be strong despite a relative decline in consumer confidence in the early months of this year, he said.

"One-month numbers really don't mean a lot," Mr. Conte said. "The blips we're seeing in the March real estate report are attributable to noneconomic factors like weather."

At the Legg Mason Realty Group in Baltimore, Vice President Robert Lefenfeld also discounted the importance of the March home sales statistics.

"One month does not a trend make," he said. "Obviously, March was a difficult month in terms of weather constraints. We had a very harsh winter compared to the last two winters."

Mr. Lefenfeld described the current sales traffic as "moderate" and expressed doubt that there would be any sudden surge of sales activity in the near future. Still, he noted, there are many qualified home buyers now searching for property.

"All the signs are out there for a positive spring," he said, noting a recent drop in mortgage interest rates, which were already relatively low at the opening of April.

On the other hand, home buyers -- realizing that it's still a buyer's market -- are slow to commit to a home purchase until they have shopped extensively. "There's no urgency out there, or pressure to commit from an interest rate vantage point," Mr. Lefenfeld said.

Statistics released by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors showed that settled sales for the region dropped in March to 1,260 units. Pending sales fell to 1,658 units.

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