Home sales in Baltimore area rose 6% in August Demand called steady despite fluctuations in mortgage rates

September 11, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-area consumers have ignored fluctuating mortgage rates and bought homes steadily for much of the year, pushing August sales up 6 percent, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors reported yesterday.

For the month, 1,843 homes sold in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties, compared with 1,742 in August 1995, the board reported. Sales fell only in Howard County, by 5 percent.

The number of contract signings regionally rose 10 percent, to 1,849 last month from 1,685 in August 1995, the board said.

At 6 percent, the August sales increase fell short of much bigger jumps earlier this spring, when sales increased on a year-to-year basis by as much as 35 percent. But the actual numbers of sales have remained in the 1,850 to 2,000 range since May.

"Even though interest rates were up and down over the last five months, home sales have remained very steady," said Keith Gumbinger, an analyst with HSH Associates of Butler, N.J., which tracks Baltimore-area mortgage rates. "Certainly the jobs picture has been steady. Consumers still feel good enough, regardless of what rates have done."

During the past few months, rates on 30-year, fixed-rate loans have hit lows of 8 percent and highs of 8.6 percent. The latest rates available for the Baltimore area show average rates at 8.48 percent as of last week, Gumbinger said.

Real estate brokers and agents usually expect summer sales to drop off a bit. But sales this summer have surpassed totals from an unusually strong summer 1995, said James P. O'Conor, chairman of O'Conor Piper & Flynn Realtors.

"You wouldn't have expected for that to have sustained itself, but it did," O'Conor said.

Sales have been on an upswing all year, with increases on a year-to-year basis since January ranging from a high of 35 percent in April to 6 percent increases last month and in June.

The average sales price in the region rose 3 percent, to $137,687, the board said.

"For a sustained period of time, I don't think the market has ever been stronger than it is now," O'Conor said. "You've got a combination of a pretty comfortable, confident public and interest rates are still good and the supply is good. People are reasonably satisfied with the way things are; therefore, they're going out and buying homes."

Gayle Briscoe, president-elect of the Board of Realtors, said a number of city and state homeownership programs have helped buyers get into first homes, especially in the city. Sales jumped 19 percent in August in the city, the board reported.

"Now there's more increased public awareness about the benefits of homeownership, and so many programs, and that helps people to build their confidence levels," Briscoe said.

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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