Home sales in area rose 27% in Nov. 'Still a lot of demand' for existing houses, local executive says

'It's been a lot of fun'

Pending contracts signal strong pace into the new year

Real Estate

December 08, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

In his three decades of selling real estate, Arthur Davis has seen all kinds of markets -- some better than others -- but this year's may be one of his most astonishing.

"We are seeing activity that just keeps coming," said the president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co. Inc., a boutique firm in Roland Park.

"On Thanksgiving, we worked right through," he said. "There is still a lot of demand and, coupled with low interest rates, it has kept the buyers looking."

But they didn't just look, they bought.

Sales of existing homes in the Baltimore metropolitan area for November rose 27 percent over the same period last year, continuing a surge that began in July 1997. What makes the rise more impressive is that it is measured against a month that was 10 percent better than November 1996.

Carroll County matched its sales for October, posting an increase of just more than 48 percent, the highest in the area. The city was next with a 39 percent rise over November 1997, and Anne Arundel County followed with a 34.5 percent gain.

Howard County showed an increase of just over 22 percent, and Baltimore County rose 18.17 percent. Harford County was the lone jurisdiction to have a single-digit increase, posting a 5.08 percent gain.

Pending contracts, an indication of future activity, rose 16 percent over the same period last year, indicating that December as well as January will show a strong housing market.

"For this day in December, I'm looking out my window to see a full parking lot and people are on the phone. That's amazing," said Patrick Kane, vice president of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. in Towson. "This is the time when people like me can go shopping when everybody is gone. But everyone is here working."

Not even a hiccup in the stock market in October seemed to give buyers pause last month.

"It's the overriding optimism," said Patricia Savani, a partner in Anne Arundel-based Champion Realty Inc.

"You can't just read about [low] unemployment and [high] retail sales and all these things being positive, positive, positive, and have a blip in the market stop it that's what we saw -- a blip in the market.

"It is the best [housing] market I can remember. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a lot of fun to see a lot of young people get into homes.

"You can get a lot of people in housing for the same as rent at 6 7/8 or 7 percent," Savani said, "and that is very gratifying."

Marc Witman, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said the unseasonably warm weather contributed to the sales increase.

"It's not a drudgery [for buyers] to go out and look at houses right now," said Witman, an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.

But Witman was concerned that strong sales and the holiday season might result in a lack of inventory for buyers to choose from.

"If you are thinking about selling your house, don't think it's not a good time to be in the market," he said. "Now may be a very good time to be, because the people who will be looking will be serious buyers."

Said Coldwell Banker's Kane: "There are so many things going in our favor right now. We're having better weather than in our spring market."

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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