Metro area home sales rise again Climb was 10% in November, 3rd straight up month

Howard, Harford, city strong

'There is not a better time to be in the market for a new home'

Real estate

December 20, 1997|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

Buoyed by strong showings in the city, Howard and Harford counties, existing home sales for the Baltimore metropolitan region are finishing the year with their third straight monthly climb.

According to statistics released yesterday by the Maryland Association of Realtors, sales in November rose 10 percent above those of November 1996.

That comes after gains of 9.5 percent in October and 16 percent in September. Leading the way was Baltimore, where the continued upsurge in sales showed a gain of 27 percent over November 1996. It also marked the fifth consecutive month that sales in the city surpassed those of the corresponding period last year.

Howard County showed an 18 percent increase over November 1996, and Harford was up 15 percent. Baltimore County had a 4 percent rise. However, sales in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties were off 12 percent from November 1996.

"The real estate market got off to a real slow start and picked up in the spring and summer months and continued into the fall, and that pretty much keeps with the kind of [economic] growth that we've had in 1997," said Michael Funk, research economist for the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

"There is not a better time to be in the market for a new home," said Funk, who also credited the continuing decline in mortgage rates with helping the market. Rates for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages have continued to fall since mid-September and now hover around 7 percent, according to weekly surveys of lenders by Freddie Mac.

The upswing in the city didn't go unnoticed by William Cassidy, manager of Long and Foster Real Estate's Fells Point office.

"In just the last three days, two of our [Canton] listings in this office have gotten two contracts per listing on the same day," Cassidy said. "In the not-too-distant past, it was unusual to get two or more contracts on the same house on the same day."

"What we are seeing is a very abbreviated time on the market for some well-priced houses, but [also] we're seeing more than one buyer trying to jump on that same house," Cassidy added.

That kind of activity, as well as a search by agents for "fresh product" in the city, has Cassidy starting to think that the pendulum might be beginning to swing back toward a seller's market in certain areas.

"In some cases, such as these [in Canton], when you see two or more contracts on the same house that's certainly the beginnings in some neighborhoods of a seller's market," he said.

"I hear agents in many neighborhoods in the city that are doing well -- be it Homeland, be it Canton, be it Federal Hill. The complaint I get from agents is there are not enough good houses out there right now," Cassidy said. "That's not to say that there isn't a big inventory, but what is in the inventory now is maybe sitting too long.

"It doesn't have the appeal that a well-priced house that is ready to move has."

Even though the number of home sales has increased in the city, the average sales price has dropped.

In November, the average sales price was down 14 percent over the same time last year.

And in that context, Cassidy hedged.

"I hesitate to say that we are seeing a change to a seller's market. We aren't seeing the pricing change in the seller's favor, we're simply seeing the time on the market reduced," he said.

For Pat Hiban, an associate broker for Re/Max Advantage Realty in Columbia, the key word for Howard County sellers has been "realistic."

"The sellers now are so much more realistic," he said. "Realistic on their price, realistic on the condition of the house.

"And because of that, more houses are selling."

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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