Existing home sales go down, prices up in city, 2 counties

Figures indicate homes selling faster, inventories stagnant

April 11, 2000|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

Although existing home sales for March declined, three jurisdictions -- the city and Baltimore and Carroll counties -- became the first in the metropolitan area to show average sales prices exceeding their average listing prices.

It is more evidence that despite a 5.57 percent drop in sales for March vs. the correponding period last year, Baltimore remains in a sellers' market with rising prices, faster sales and stagnant inventories.

The average sales price in the city last month was $79,933 vs. an average listing price of $78,893. In Baltimore County, it was $152,012 vs. $150,537. And in Carroll County, the average sales price climbed to $208,476 vs. a $187,412 average listing price. It was the first time that has happened since the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., -- the database for real estate agents -- began tracking existing home sales in the Baltimore area four years ago.

"I cannot remember a time when that has occurred," said Arthur Davis, president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co. Inc. in Roland Park. "We've been relatively close, but I can't remember a time when the entire city was ahead.

"It is a broad enough indicator that I think you are seeing the renaissance that is going on in the Roland Park, Guilford, Mount Washington areas has spilled over now into other sections of the city because those areas alone could not have pulled up the entire city. To me that means there is a lot of other good activity going on in other areas of the city."

Sales in the city were up 8.2 percent over March 1999, but Baltimore and Carroll counties were down 10.16 percent and 22.35 percent, respectively. Anne Arundel County was down 11.05 percent; Harford County was off 2.99 percent and Howard was virtually unchanged from a year ago, up 0.65 percent.

"Sales are down, but they are down only because inventory is so low," said Anirban Basu, director of applied economics at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. "And many buyers appear to be having difficulty finding suitable product."

Overall, the number of homes for sale in the metro area rose slightly to 12,113 properties, up from 11,962 in February. But that number pales compared with previous March inventory numbers. In 1997, there were 18,920 properties for sale in the metro area, a 36 percent decrease.

"I think with the increase of properties coming on the market especially in the last two or three weeks, obviously that is going to help," said Patrick J. Kane, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and vice president of Coldwell Banker Grempler Real Estate Inc., "but it is nowhere near [what we need] ... we still have a real lack of properties on the market right now."

Melvin Knight, an agent with the Wyndhurst office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA in Roland Park, said frustrated buyers are "being less difficult, that is for sure.

"I am finding that the buyers are expanding their searches into neighborhoods that weren't as trendy a year or so ago. They are looking further," Knight said, noting the Hamilton area in Northeast Baltimore. "Last year [the Hamilton area] had a lot of listings, over 400. Now there might be 170, 180. Ednor Gardens a year ago probably had 60 listings, today it has 20 something.

"So there were neighborhoods that didn't look like they were doing well, in terms of demand, that are suddenly doing better with less inventory."

And with a fewer choices and more competition for homes, buyers are continuing to purchase at a heightened pace. The average days on market for a home in March in the Baltimore area was 115 days vs. 139 for the comparable time last year. But of the 2,338 homes sold last month, more than a third -- 844 -- were sold within the first 30 days of coming on the market.

In Howard County, where the competition is fierce for finding homes near highly sought schools, the average days of a home on the market was 80, compared with 106 in March 1999. And of the 309 homes that sold last month, 151 went in the first 30 days.

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