Housing sales up 7.6% in April

Prices also climb as buyers pursue diminishing supply

Real estate

May 12, 1999|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Homebuyers in April continued to compete for houses on the market, as Baltimore-area sales climbed 7.6 percent and average prices inched up from a year ago.

The sales gain, reported yesterday by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., marked the first increase of less than 10 percent in the past year and a half.

Strong consumer confidence and low mortgage interest rates have driven home sales to double-digit increases, on a year-over-year basis, since October 1997.

Real estate experts yesterday attributed April's smaller, yet still healthy, increase to a siphoning off of the pent-up demand that existed throughout much of last year. Others said fewer homes are available for sale, in part because many homeowners have borrowed money against the value of their homes or refinanced and cannot afford to sell.

Still, the market shows no signs of weakening. In many areas, buyers are snapping up homes soon after they go on the market, real estate agents and managers said.

"The market has been, in all price ranges, just an exceptional market," said Adam D. Cockey, a vice president of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA at Wyndhurst. "We've seen a lot of sales where there are multiple contracts. It's a little reminiscent of the mid-'80s."

Interest rates have remained relatively low, though they inched up slightly last week. In the Baltimore area, rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.96 percent, up from 6.90 percent, according to HSH Associates of Butler, N.J.

Homes in the area sold for an average $148,571, a 4.3 percent increase from April 1998, and stayed on the market an average 175 days, a 4.9 percent decrease, MRIS said.

With stiff competition for homes, sellers in April got an average 95.9 percent of their asking price, up slightly from 95.07 percent, according to the housing database for Realtors.

"The buyers are still out there, but inventory is very scarce," said Patrick Kane, vice president and general manager of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty.

Sales were up in all five metropolitan counties and Baltimore, compared with April 1998, with increases ranging from 4.8 percent in the city to 21.3 percent in Carroll County, MRIS reported.

"We've had good inventory," said Sharon Callahan, the sales manager of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA's Hampstead office in Carroll County. "It is very steady. We are continually busy, with phones ringing constantly and people walking in the door.

"When you ask buyers what they are looking for, the typical answer is they want some land; they want some space; they don't want tiny lots; some convenience without isolation," Callahan said.

Homes stayed on the market an average 153 days in Carroll County, a 15 percent drop from April a year ago. The average sale price was $171,071, MRIS said.

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