Aided by falling interest rates and strong performances in Howard and Harford counties, the Baltimore metropolitan area posted a 15 percent increase in completed sales of existing homes for December.
It was the fourth straight month of increased homes sales for the area, according to statistics released yesterday by the Maryland Association of Realtors.
Not included in the statistics were final sales from the Anne Arundel Multiple Listing Service, which were unavailable.
Howard County had its best month of 1997, showing a 37 percent gain over December 1996. The same was true for Harford sales, which climbed 47 percent over December 1996.
The only area where completed sales declined was Carroll County, which saw a drop of 11 percent.
Baltimore saw a 9 percent increase, and Baltimore County was up 11 percent.
The strength of sales in Howard and Harford counties was also evident when compared with November 1997 numbers. Howard showed a 4 percent increase, and Harford was up 8 percent. Final home-sales figures for 1997 will be released next month.
Many Realtors believe that falling mortgage rates have finally influenced the market. Since October, rates in the Baltimore area have dropped almost a half of a percentage point, from the mid 7-percent range to a rate closer to 6.75 percent.
"What you are finding is that people who bought several years ago at 9.5 percent interest rates are buying up," said Barbara Hickman, who works out of the Phoenix office in Baltimore County for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty. "But they are not trading a whole lot of difference in payment. There's just the difference in the [lower mortgage] rate."
Hickman said her month, which was "busier than most Decembers," was marked by a variety of buyers coming into the market.
"I was very busy in December, and they were all different kinds of buyers -- first-time buyers, move-up buyers -- and now I am seeing the same thing in [January]," she said. "A lot of people who I sold houses to several years ago are calling to [make a] move up."
The start of 1998 might be more encouraging for Carroll because for the third straight month, pending sales -- an indicator of future sales activity -- with double-digit increases, showing a 43 percent increase for December over the same period in 1996.
The average sales price of an existing home in the area also continued to be higher than 1996 figures, with all jurisdictions climbing in December.
Leading the way were Baltimore and Carroll counties, which saw average prices climb 17 percent over December 1996. The average price of a resale in Baltimore County was $150,359 compared with $128,690 for 1996. In Carroll, it was $167,195 compared with $143,485.
Harford and Howard counties were next with 16 and 14 percent increases, respectively. The average sales price of an existing .. home in Harford rose to $148,561 from $127,783; in Howard, it increased to $195,175 from $171,630 in December 1996.
Pub Date: 1/17/98