Home sales fall in region

Dec. is third month showing a decline

city, Harford rose

Real estate

January 13, 2000|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

Sales of existing homes in the Baltimore metropolitan area fell 5.86 percent in December from a year earlier -- the third consecutive month sales have sagged and the biggest month-over-month drop in 2 1/2 years.

Only the city and Harford County showed an increase in sales over December 1998 -- 5.42 percent and 11.56 percent, respectively -- while Howard and Carroll counties dropped 20.32 percent and 20.83 percent, according to statistics released yesterday by the Metropolitan Regional Information System (MRIS).

Anne Arundel County was down 12.57 percent and Baltimore County sales were off 3.87 percent.

Even with a year-end slump, sales in the metropolitan area last year posted a 9.75 percent increase in sales over the previous year, according to preliminary numbers -- a healthy increase but less than half the 20 percent gain recorded in 1998. Last year, 31,587 homes were sold in the area, compared with 28,779 in 1998. MRIS releases its final yearly statistics next month.

Although 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are at their highest point in almost two years -- hovering near 8.5 percent -- agents said sales are being held down by too few homes on the market.

"When the inventory shelves start to become bare, it's hard to keep sales up," said Patrick T. Welsh, president-elect of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

At the end of last year, 11,806 homes were for sale in the metropolitan area, down almost 900 homes from November. In contrast, at the end of 1998, 15,625 homes were for sale -- a 25 percent difference.

"I'm usually a lister. I used to carry 30 to 35 listings," said Doug Poole of Re/Max Preferred in Hunt Valley. "I have five listings, so I am dealing with a lot of buyers."

"The fact of the matter is you have strong demand, and if the inventory comes to us, we will still have a strong year," said Sarah Sinnickson, manager of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA's Annapolis Church Circle office in Anne Arundel County.

"Dwindling [inventory] is causing that [slowdown] to be deeper than we like," said Bill Cassidy, manager of the Fells Point office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "There is a good inventory of buyers but not properties."

For example, a buyer who wanted to purchase a home for between $200,000 and $250,000 in Howard County last month was limited to just 53 single-family detached homes in the county.

"And let's say that you wanted to buy one that was 10 years old or under," said Pat Hiban of Re/Max Advantage Realty in Columbia. "You want a younger neighborhood. What does that bring you down to? For 10 years and younger, you can take that 53 probably down to 10 or eight [homes to choose from]."

Yet with the new year, Hiban does see more homes beginning to come on the market.

"We've gotten a flood of it, but it is still not enough," Hiban said. "But at least we have more now than we did last month.

"The buyers are out there. There is a lot of money out there. People are spending it. People have made a lot of money in the stock market and they feel rich. I'm feeling really good about this market."

The squeeze on the market has continued to push prices upward.

The average price of a detached home in the metropolitan area in December rose 8.11 percent to $209,193 from $193,497 in December 1998.

Townhouses had a more modest increase of 3.69 percent, to $99,671 from $96,123.

Said Hiban: "I think [the market] has taken a pause and now it is on play again. And I hope that it will go to fast forward."

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