Home prices rising amid sales surge

Per-house average reached $145,685 last month in area

A strong sellers' market

Howard buyers pay nearly 97.5% of what's asked

Real estate

April 14, 1999|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

As sales of homes continue to rise in the Baltimore area, so do the prices.

According to statistics from the Metropolitan Regional Information System, sales of existing homes in the Baltimore metropolitan area last month rose 13.31 percent over March 1998, and the average sales price grew by 2.5 percent, to $145,685.

Sales for the first quarter grew 16.5 percent over 1998. They have risen 56 percent in the past two years.

"We really and truly are in a sellers' market right now," said Lynn Creager, an agent for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. who sells primarily in northern Baltimore County and Harford County. "This is the strongest sellers' market that I can remember for a very long time. The people who are listing their houses are getting real good prices."

In Howard County, buyers were paying almost 97.5 percent of what sellers were asking. In March 1998, the percentage was 95.9.

"When we are in a very good sellers' market, where we have very few homes on the market and a lot of buyers, the sellers are going to get top dollar on those homes. And that is what we are in right now," said Creager, an agent for 15 years.

The continued strength of the market has surprised many in the industry since 1998 produced some of the best real estate sales months of the decade.

Baltimore and Carroll County led the surge with sales increases of 25.38 percent and 21.62 percent. The only jurisdiction that had a decrease was Harford County, down 6.6 percent from March 1998.

Yet, with the economy and the stock market continuing to hum, home sales are following suit, according to Marc Witman, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "The stock market has crossed over 10,000; interest rates are at 7 percent; the economy is going strong; and you are coming off of 10 years of pent-up demand."

Witman said owners have seen little appreciation in home values during the past 10 years, but as housing inventories tighten and more buyers come into the market, prices in some of the area's most-sought-after neighborhoods are on the rise.

"The city neighborhoods are still a bear. Homeland, Guilford, Roland Park, Mount Washington, Otterbein, Federal Hill, Canton are unbelievably impossible," said Witman in describing the frustration agents are having in finding homes for anxious buyers in those areas. "There still are multiple contracts [coming in] on nice houses [and] prices definitely have been pushed upward. I would think 10 to 20 percent in those neighborhoods compared to two years ago."

Buyers looking at four-bedroom detached homes have seen prices steadily inch upward. Baltimore-area buyers paid $235,511 last month to purchase a home with at least four bedrooms, a 3.5 percent increase over what they paid in March 1998.

In Carroll County, a four-bedroom home sold for $231,982 vs. $205,420 -- a 13 percent increase over March 1998. The price for a home with at least four bedrooms in Baltimore County rose 6.25 percent to $230,035.

For detached homes overall, prices rose 6 percent last month, to $193,926.

"When I first got into real estate, the market was like this," Creager said. "That was 15 years ago, but this is the best market that I've ever experienced."

Pub Date: 4/14/99

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