Home values seen as likely to go up soon Strong growth in jobs cited by analysts as primary reason

'It's a very lively market'

Real state agents, appraisers appear less optimistic

June 13, 1996|By A SUN STAFF WRITER

After years of stagnation, home values in Howard County soon may creep up again thanks to strong job growth, particularly among high-paying jobs, economic analysts say.

Though county officials remain cautious, the latest edition of the county's quarterly Economic Indicators report is upbeat about the local economy.

Some independent economists go further, predicting that more good news is coming, even for long-suffering homeowners, who have seen the assessed values of homes stall over several years.

"It's one of the few counties where we see abundant job growth and high-paid jobs growing," said Michael Conte, director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson State University. Howard is probably going to be leading the way in terms of a resurgence in home-value growth."

The June Economic Indicators report, a mix of hunches and economic statistics covering different periods, is compiled by county staff and members of the private Economic Forum. The report says: Small-business leasing is up 400 percent "over the past year."

Residential real estate has been strong since March, particularly among townhouses with garages.

Sales tax revenues in March were up 3.7 percent from the same month a year ago.

In the same March-to-March period, unemployment dropped from 3.2 percent to 2.7 percent -- a rate considered at or near full employment.

Total wages grew by nearly 5 percent from September 1994 to September 1995. Meanwhile, the average weekly wage was $574 in September 1995.

Economic forecasters find the employment and wage statistics particularly significant. As job growth goes, so goes the economy, they say

Because only a third of the Howard County work force lives and works in the county, officials track the number of jobs in the county and the number of county residents who have jobs anywhere.

Both numbers are higher.

In March, 10,753 more county residents held jobs than a year earlier.

And in September 1995, the last month for which reliable information is available, the county had 4,048 more jobs than a year earlier.

The jobs created in Howard County also are relatively high-paying, according to calculations made by Conte and his institute. Conte said six of the 10 fastest-growing job categories, such as computer and data processing, pay $500 or more a week. Three of those categories pay more than $800 a week.

He predicted that could lead home values to begin growing by 5 percent annually next year. That eventually could mean an increase in county property tax revenues.

The average selling price for a single family home in January was $197,766 -- 1.6 percent less than the average price in January 1995, according to the Economic Indicators report.

"The rest of the state is going to pick up," Conte said, "but Howard County is really in the lead."

Mahlon Straszheim, chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Maryland College Park, studied Howard County's economy for a different report last winter. Straszheim also predicts improvement in home values.

"Howard County is probably the most thriving county in the whole state," he said. "It's just having a terrific recovery from the '91 recession."

Real estate agents, consultants and appraisers are less optimistic. Some report slight increases in home values. Some report none.

"I'd say they're probably going up, but not that much," said Jim Kinnear with Re/Max Advantage Realty in Columbia. "It's definitely not the '80s. That's for sure."

Peter Vidi, a Greenbelt appraiser, said the market still favors buyers. "If you're anticipating making a great deal of money on your property at this point, you better have bought it at the right price," Vidi said.

However, Georgiana Tyler, with American Properties in Columbia, finds herself far busier than a year ago.

"It's a very lively market," she said, adding, "I think we're seeing a tiny bit of appreciation over '95."

County officials greet such news with wary optimism. They say the worst of the last recession definitely is over, but they stop short of predicting growth in home values or county property-tax revenues.

"We haven't seen it yet," said Budget Administrator Raymond Wacks, whose office compiles the Economic Indicators report. "It would be nice if it would happen."

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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