Fueled by a strong showing in Howard County, Baltimore area home sales rose 6 percent over the same time period last year, according to statistics released yesterday by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.
A total of 1,894 homes were sold during June, which was also a 10 percent increase over May sales. But Realtors said a drop in area interest rates had failed to appreciably spark buyers' interest. Last week, according to HSH Associates, a New Jersey firm that tracks mortgage rates nationwide, a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in the Baltimore area was 7.46, compared to 8.55 percent a year ago.
Howard County had the most dramatic increase, gaining 36 percent in sales over the same time period last year. Baltimore County gained 8 percent while sales in Carroll County dropped 8 percent and Harford 3 percent. Sales in Baltimore were off 2 percent.
The number of pending sales -- an indication of future activity in the market -- was down just 3 percent compared to June of last year. In May, pending sales were off nearly 22 percent from May 1996.
"I don't think the market has changed appreciably," said Marc Witman of the Greenspring office of Long and Foster and vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. "I think there is a lot of activity out there. I find that I am showing a lot of property. [But] I find that people are taking their time to make their decisions."
Keith Gumbinger, an analyst for HSH Associates, said stable interest rates were lulling the generally lackluster market.
"There's certainly not a lot of panic buying. What gives you those big strong [sales] numbers, believe it or not, is fear, which is an odd thing because it gives you sales," he said. "When people are afraid that the interest rates are going to rise anytime soon, you stuff a year's worth of buying into a couple of months. So you get those big double-digit gains."
The generally lackluster climate is reflected in the consistently high inventories. In Baltimore County, for example, there were 5,579 homes for sale. In May, the number was slightly higher at 5,588.
"Most of what is taking a long time [to sell] is stuff that either came on too high [in price] or is in rough shape," said Witman. "There is a lot of inventory to look at but not a lot of quality. [When] people see the new kitchen, the updated kitchen and see that it's in good condition, they jump at it because it just stands out."
"It feels like it is taking more time for houses to sell," said Pat Hiban of Re/Max Advantage Realty in Howard County.
"In real estate sometimes we sort of see a food chain effect where the townhouses will sell all around the same time and those sellers need to buy something, so they will go out and buy something and those single families will buy something bigger," he said.
"Right now I think we're sort of in the middle of the food chain, where the stuff between $200,000 and $400,000 is moving because a lot of the townhouse sellers were freed up because their townhouse has sold," Hiban explained.
Patrick Kane, vice president of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty, said his company's figures are "just about even across the board" compared to last year at this time.
"It's just a shame that we're not really capitalizing on the [low] interest rates," he said, but added that July sales seem to be stronger than usual for a summer month.
Pub Date: 7/15/97