Home sales up 0.54% for month, 11% for year in area Stable interest rates called key factor

December 10, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Baltimore area home sales held steady in November, inching up just 0.54 percent but boosting sales so far in 1996 well above last year's, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.

The board reported sales for the month of 1,304, compared with 1,297 for the same period a year ago.

Sales for the year through November, however, jumped to 16,685, 11 percent higher than the same period a year ago, the board said.

Sales have surpassed 1995 figures in every month except October, according to the Realtors' multiple listing service in the city and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

"For the most part, 1996 will end up as a near record year for the Baltimore metropolitan area real estate industry," said Gayle Briscoe, president of the Board of Realtors.

She noted that while the average price of homes sold has remained steady at $130,925, compared with $131,219 in 1995, the sales volume for the region rose 12 percent to $2.2 billion for the year through November.

"There's extremely good energy in the market and people out there looking, but certain price ranges are still having difficulty -- more in high end," said Marc Witman, an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate and vice president of the board. "We've seen more strength in the affordable housing area."

Nationally, Realtors expected to end the year on an upswing as well. Though home sales have been declining since hitting a record high in May, the National Association of Realtors has predicted that by year's end, home resales will surpass the previous high of 3.99 million sales in 1978.

Stable mortgage interest rates have contributed to strong sales nationally and locally, said Keith Gumbinger, a mortgage analyst with HSH Associates of Butler, N.J.

So far this year, rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages hit a low of 7.24 percent in February and a high of 8.57 percent in June, he said.

"Housing sales did well because interest rates were pretty stable," Gumbinger said, noting a slim spread of 1.3 percentage points between the high and the low.

"The increases never got so high as to be out of the range for most people's incomes," Gumbinger said.

It's unlikely, though, that the housing market will see robust growth continue through next year, he said.

"It's been a very good market, but there's only so much pent-up demand without a sharp drop of interest rates," he said.

As of last Friday, rates for the Baltimore area averaged 7.43 percent, he said.

The Board of Realtors reported sales increases in November in all jurisdictions but Harford and Howard, where sales fell 20 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

The number of sales contract signings in November, at 1,385, remained virtually unchanged from November 1995.

That number typically indicates the direction of future final sales.

Pub Date: 12/10/96

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