Home sellers await better weather

March 06, 1994|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Sun Staff Writer

Where have all the houses gone?

After suffering with an excess of for-sale properties for two years, real estate executives throughout the Baltimore area are now reporting a surprising drop in supply.

"Last year at this time, there was a glut of houses on the market. Now the inventory is shrinking quickly," said Chris Coile, head of Champion Realty Inc., based in Severna Park.

hTC Bad weather is the chief explanation for what real estate agents expect will be a temporary imbalance in the market. Many sellers are simply waiting until all the snow, sand and salt is cleared away before they open their homes to prospects, said Nancy Hubble, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

"I think sellers are just holding off until the weather gets better so their houses can be marketed properly," Ms. Hubble said.

Statistics from the local realty board show there were 2 percent fewer homes on the market in the Baltimore area this January than for the same month last year. And local realty officials say that a shortage of prime for-sale properties -- primarily in the north corridor of Baltimore and Baltimore County and the other metro area counties -- became more acute in February.

"Inventory is very low. I have a lot of buyers I'm working with who are waiting for houses to come on the market," said Ms. Hubble, an agent with W. H. C. Wilson & Co. in Roland Park.

For example, Ms. Hubble has been looking for weeks for a house in Mount Washington or near the Falls Road corridor for a bachelor who works at a philanthropic foundation. The man, in his mid-30s, has been unable to find the secluded house he is seeking in the $200,000 range.

Also stumped by the lack of supply is a couple from Baltimore's Homeland with three teen-age children who need more bedroom space for their growing youngsters. The man, a banker, and his wife, a professor, have for several months been unsuccessful in their search for the right house in the city.

"What's probably occurred is that -- because of the severe and prolonged winter weather -- sellers are holding back on putting their homes on the market," said Georgiana Tyler, who sells real estate for Chase Fitzgerald in Roland Park and American Properties Inc. in Columbia.

Besides bad weather, another explanation for the shortage of inventory is that houses are now selling faster than they did in 1992 and most of 1993, realty executives say. Rising mortgage ** rates, coupled with rising consumer confidence, have increased the motivation of many prospective buyers, they say.

"Mortgage rates are still very, very reasonable. But buyers realize that rates are not going to get any lower," Ms. Tyler said.

Last November, homebuyers could obtain a fixed-rate home loan with a 30-year term at an interest rate of 6.5 percent. Now the rate on the same mortgage is hovering around 7.5 percent, mortgage lenders report.

"These interest rate increases have been a little bit of a blessing. They've gotten a lot more people serious about making an offer," said Blaine Milner, an agent with RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Columbia.

At the Charles Street office of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty in Baltimore County, Sales Manager Lou Occhionero said his office had 25 percent fewer home-sale listings last month than in February 1992. And other realty executives report similar figures for February.

"Sellers are slow in getting ready this spring," Mr. Occhionero said.

Still, he and other realty industry leaders predict that many more sellers will place their houses on the market in late March or early April and that the year will prove to be the strongest since 1989.

"We're seeing a tremendous demand in Harford County," said Patrick Kane, a vice president for the Coldwell Banker Grempler chain, which does business throughout the Baltimore area.

In addition to Harford County, he sees particular strength in the Hunt Valley, Jacksonville, Towson and Timonium areas of Baltimore County, as well as the Eldersburg area of Carroll County. Large sections of Howard and Anne Arundel County are also strong, he said.

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