Baltimore housing market so far in '93 is lackluster Settled, pending sales fall in first half

July 07, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

It was supposed to be a year of significant recovery for the Baltimore area housing market. But so far at least, the 1993 market has only sputtered along.

Figures released yesterday by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors showed that for the first six months of the year, pending sales of new and existing homes were down 4.7 percent compared with pending sales a year ago, and settled sales fell 6 percent.

Statistics for June indicated an upturn -- 21 percent for pending sales and 4 percent for settled sales. Still, economists downplayed the importance of the June figures, which they said reflected a temporary surge of must-buy home purchasers seeking to settle on homes before school starts in the fall.

"The month of June was created from the pressure of those who must move," said Robert Kleinpaste, president of the Legg Mason Realty Group in Baltimore, which tracks the new-home market in the metropolitan area. Once pent-up demand from must-move buyers has been spent, the market will flatten again, he predicted.

"There will be no spectacular movement," said Michael A. Conte, who directs the University of Baltimore's regional economic studies program. "Sales and settlements will continue to eke out only small gains for the rest of the year."

Economists noted that home prices have generally held stable in recent months and predicted that that trend would continue. According to figures from the local Realtors board, the average price of a home sold in the Baltimore area in June ($130,034) was down slightly from the figure for June 1992 ($132,938).

"Maryland has been and continues to be a good value for the housing dollar," said Mr. Conte, who suggested that lower prices, in part, caused more homes to sell in June this year than last year.

The lackluster quality of Baltimore's market during the first six months of this year was caused by a combination of bad weather from February through April and weak consumer confidence, which continues to be a factor, Legg Mason's Mr. Kleinpaste said.

"We believe the housing business is still running at very much of an emotional level on the part of our buyers," Mr. Kleinpaste said. "Our buyers are receiving a lot of mixed signals from Washington. They're not sure whether the administration in Washington is doing well or not."

The brightest spot in the market is mortgage rates, which are running at a 20-year low. Low mortgage rates should produce lTC steady, if not spectacular, sales the rest of the year, real estate executives said.

At the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, Executive Vice President Fletcher Hall said he expected a better-than-average summer.

"It's not one of the boom times in the middle to late '80s," he said. "But the middle to late '80s aren't here anymore."

The local Realtors board reports on the sale of homes in Baltimore City, as well as in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. Anne Arundel County's realty board has not reported its June figures.

For the first six months of this year, settled sales in the Baltimore area fell to 7,974, compared with 8,485 in 1992. The number of pending sales during last year's period was 9,722, compared with 9,261 through June 1993.

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