Home sales down 13% from August High-end buyers may have been jolted by stock market

Whither the sizzle?

September numbers are 19.25% above year earlier, however

October 10, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

The red-hot market for sales of existing homes in the Baltimore metropolitan region may be losing a little bit of its sizzle as homebuyers head into the final months of 1998.

Although September sales were 19.25 percent above those of September 1997, they were off 13 percent from August 1998 numbers, according to statistics released yesterday by the Metropolitan Regional Information System and the Anne Arundel County Multiple List.

It was the second straight month that home sales declined on a month-to-month basis. August sales trailed July figures by 10 percent.

Even though September was an improvement over the same month last year, the 19.25 percent gain represented the lowest monthly increase for the year when comparing 1998 with 1997.

The shrinking percentage, however, was attributed to the start of last year's housing rebound that has put the area on course for one of its best overall housing markets in years.

"In July and August of 1997, we were just starting to come out of that flat market and really starting to move up to this really great market that we've had in '98. You are measuring against a good year," said Gilbert D. Marsiglia, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

By jurisdiction, the city continued to show strength over 1997 sales, gaining 42 percent in September. Likewise, Howard and Anne Arundel counties were 27 percent and 21 percent higher, respectively, than a year ago. Carroll County grew 19 percent over last year. However, Baltimore and Harford counties showed small increases of 6.66 percent and 3.85 percent over September 1997.

Yet, when comparing September sales with those of August of this year, every jurisdiction showed a decline in sales, led by Harford County, dropping 25 percent. The city and Carroll, Baltimore and Howard counties were off 11 percent, and Anne Arundel was down 9 percent.

"To come down from August is pretty unusual," said Douglas Poole of Re/Max Preferred in Hunt Valley. "I think we had a lot of pent-up demand that came out in the early part of the year, and I think we have absorbed it. I think we are getting back to a normal market."

Marsiglia linked the slowing momentum of the market to cracks in consumer confidence.

"I think the stock market has hit some people pretty hard, and it has hit the high end of the market more because the people who are buying the high-end houses -- over $400,000 -- probably have gotten hit pretty hard in the market and probably aren't feeling quite as wealthy as they were," Marsiglia said, adding, "The average consumer, on their level, if they see what they own has dropped 15 to 20 percent -- that hurts a little bit too.

Patrick J. Kane, vice president of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc., said the slowdown may be a pause for the market.

"The good news is that what I am seeing for the first part of October is that we are very busy. So, I hope that it is a momentary thing. It's still up 19 percent, it's certainly not something to panic about. These things can't be sustained forever unfortunately."

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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