Howard Home Sales: South for Winter

February 21, 1994

Why did the sale of new and previously owned homes go south in Howard County during the first month of this year?

No one seems to have a definitive answer, though many blame it on the abysmal weather conditions. But that doesn't explain why home sales in the entire Baltimore area rose 5 percent in January compared with January last year, while Howard County sales declined 9 percent. Certainly both areas share similar weather.

But Howard is different in other ways. As Kenneth M. Stiel, president of the county's Association of Realtors, pointed out, a large portion of the county's home buyers are "voluntary move-ups." Those are people who already live in Howard County and are looking for larger homes.

They are also the buyers "who look for a home on their own schedule," Mr. Stiel said. While agents in other counties derive much of their business from people new to their area, Howard Realtors must drum their fingers waiting for the impulse to strike residents already there. This is also a population that knows what it wants, when and where it wants it.

In the past, having a built-in market of home buyers meant robust sales in Howard. Columbia played a major role. As a new and growing city with lots of amenities, it attracted families to its wide range of housing. Some, invariably, wanted bigger homes, which the Columbia market was more than willing to supply.

At least that was the pattern until the recession struck and prospective buyers got skittish. Low interest rates helped revive flagging home sales, but Howard's rebound has been spotty at best. Meanwhile, home prices have remained high. The average price of single family homes sold in Howard went for $184,689, while the average price of a condominium was $89,980. Still, there appears to be no cause for alarm. The actual decline in sales, from 140 in January of last year to 127 this year, is negligible.

Hope remains for a spring thaw that will bring buyers back into the market.

Mr. Stiel believes that the pent-up demand for housing in Howard will be so great that there will be a flood of new sales come March. It may be wishful thinking, but then no one would have predicted that the winter of 1994 would put such a chill on the buying public. Besides, if sales blip upward in coming months, no one will remember the time they blipped down.

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