What a difference a year makes

January 09, 1994|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

What a turnaround!

For the first six months of the year, the market was so bad that it seemed like 1991 all over again.

But today, the market is brisk, if not hot. With renewed confidence in the economy and fears that mortgage rates have hit bottom, December sales rose 14 percent, according to the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. For the year, sales were up 3 percent from last year.

"December was a beautiful month," said James P. O'Conor, the chairman of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

With Bill Clinton about to become president, many buyers were "apprehensive" in December 1992, Mr. O'Conor said. But confidence in the president and the economy has turned around, Mr. O'Conor said.

In addition, many people feel interest rates have hit bottom.

"Mortgage rates are the kicker," said Michael Conte, director of regional economic studies at the University of Baltimore. "People teetering on the edge -- who wondered when mortgage rates were going to hit their low -- basically have concluded that it's time to move."

Many Baltimore-area families have waited three years to make a home purchase -- including first-time buyers and move-up buyers with growing households, he said.

Mr. Conte expects a good 1994 for residential real estate, with home values rising in much of the region by the rate of inflation or better. Particularly positive for December was the pickup in pending sales -- up 17 percent -- which are considered a leading economic indicator, he said.

The number of home sales that settled in December increased 14 percent to 1,845. For the same period, pending sales increased 17 percent, to 1,031. Pending sales are contracts submitted but not closed.

Sales were up 36 percent in Harford County; 27 percent in Carroll County; 19 percent in Baltimore County; and 14 percent in the city. Sales were down 5 percent in Howard County. The figures are for sales of new and existing homes as reported to the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service.

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