Sales of existing homes leap 22 percent in area Baltimore, 5 counties all show increase over August 1997


September 11, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

Homebuyers in the Baltimore metropolitan area didn't bother to take a vacation from the robust real estate market of 1998 as sales of existing homes in August climbed 22.78 percent over the same time period last year.

Every jurisdiction showed increased activity for the month, according to statistics released yesterday by the Metropolitan Regional Information System and the Anne Arundel Multiple List. Buyers continued to seek housing opportunities in the city, as evidenced by a 40.43 percent increase in sales over August 1997.

Harford County, with its best showing of the summer months, jumped more than 37 percent over last August.

Carroll County had a gain of 24.4 percent; Baltimore County was up 19.76 percent; and Anne Arundel County showed a 11.95 percent increase. Howard County, however, showed a gain of 7.49 percent, which was its lowest month-over-month increase of the year.

"We always expect August to be a slow month, and it was incredibly active," said Melvin Knight of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA at Wyndhurst.

The activity in the market should continue as pending contracts for the month, an indicator of future sales, continued to show strength, jumping 15 percent over August 1997.

Gilbert D. Marsiglia, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, however, was cautious about the coming months even though August represented the 14th consecutive month of increased sales.

"Things are going to slow down, because we have been on [a strong] pace," said Marsiglia, adding that the volatility of the stock market may begin to hurt sales in the luxury market.

"I think where the stock market is going to affect us is when you start talking about sales in the $400,000 to $500,000 range and over. These are the people who are in the market pretty heavy and got hit pretty hard. I think we will see sales in the top end slow up.

"In the bottom end, when you are talking about first-time homebuyers and buyers under the $200,000 level, many of these people don't have money in the market. They are going to benefit from the lower rates."

And lower mortgage rates seem to be a weekly occurrence.

Yesterday, Freddie Mac reported that its weekly survey of lenders showed that a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage had dropped to 6.77, the lowest since Oct. 29, 1993.

Marsiglia and Knight were encouraged by the "enthusiasm" for the city.

"The downtown markets have improved noticeably," Knight said. Certain neighborhoods where things weren't selling well for awhile, suddenly there are shortages. This was a good month -- a really good month."

Knight pointed to Otterbein, near the Inner Harbor, where he said the housing inventory has shrunk, and asking prices are increasing for what is on the market.

"In Otterbein, a reasonably priced rowhouse is over $200,000. There are no houses for sale in Otterbein for less than $235,000," Knight said, adding that there are only four active listings in the area where a "few years ago I sold homes in the $120,000s."

He said Ridgely's Delight -- across the street from Oriole Park at ++ Camden Yards -- has also seen more activity.

"A year ago there were 27, 28 listings at any given moment [in Ridgely's Delight], and now there is a handful," he said.

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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