Sales of houses in 2000 are best in past 10 years

A slow start ends strong in region, early numbers show

Fewer homes, prices up

January 11, 2001|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

Homebuyers had to look harder and pay more, but it didn't stop them from apparently making 2000 the best year in the last decade for existing-home sales in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

With the release of December statistics by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), showing sales in the region up 9.62 percent over December 1999, preliminary figures indicate that 31,689 homes were sold in the region last year, compared with 30,856 in 1999, a rise of 2.61 percent. A final MRIS tally will be released next month.

Through the first half of 2000, sales lagged behind 1999 by 1.56 percent, surprising few in the industry since 1999 was the best year of the decade. But, aided by declining mortgage rates, the market stormed back with higher sales in the final four months of the year.

Last week, the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in Baltimore was 7.24 percent, down from a high of 8.68 percent on May 19. For the buyer applying for a $150,000 mortgage, that meant a savings of $151 a month in principal and interest.

The resilience of the Baltimore market has impressed Patrick T. Welsh, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and a Realtor for more than 20 years.

"Usually the market would be strong for a couple of years, then we would hit a bump in the road and we would slow down for a year," Welsh said. "Then we would have [another] run. I can't remember a time of five or six years like this that it has been so strong. It's been great."

In Howard County, December sales were up 27.84 percent over December 1999 to lead all jurisdictions. Baltimore City continued to see an influx of buyers, rising 21.64 percent; Anne Arundel County rose 11.96 percent; and Carroll County was up 10.20 percent. Harford County showed a modest 0.45 decrease, and Baltimore County dropped 4.94 percent over the corresponding period in 1999.

The Baltimore regional trend has mirrored a surge nationwide as the National Association of Realtors has had to revise October and November sales figures upward and now expects final 2000 sales of 5.01 million homes, second-highest in history after 1999's 5.197 million. December NAR statistics are to be released this month.

But one aspect of the market that hasn't been a surprise to anyone looking for a home is the continuing climb in prices.

The average sales price for a home in the region last month rose to $157,012, an increase of 3.03 percent over December 1999. And nowhere did it increase more than in Howard County, where it rose by 10.9 percent to $235,072 from $211,961.

And Howard County sellers barely had time to stick a for-sale sign in the ground. The average days on the market for a home dropped to 46 from 69 in December 1999.

Of the 326 homes sold last month in Howard County, 190 were sold within the first 30 days of being on the market. The average days on the market for the Baltimore region was 90, two more than the same period in 1999.

Not only was December the fourth straight month of climbing month-over-month sales, but pending sales rose 30.28 percent over December 1999.

"With the pendings up, that is going to get 2001 off to a huge start," Welsh said.

But with more homes going off the market than coming on, the number of homes for sale in the region has been declining. In December, the inventory in the Baltimore metro area reached its lowest point in recent memory, with 10,775 residences for sale. At the end of November there were 12,705 homes for sale in the region.

To show how drastic the drop has been, in December 1998 there were 15,625 homes on the market, a 31.04 percent difference.

"There is nothing out there," said David Desser, an associate broker with Prudential Carruthers Realtors in Pikesville. "I don't think there is a chronic shortage. It's not like we are out of inventory, it's just that everything is being absorbed so much faster."

Said Welsh, a manager of the Dundalk office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.: "It's been a long time now that we've had severe shortages in the hottest of neighborhoods from the Mount Washingtons to the Cantons.

"In other neighborhoods, that have not experienced that euphoria, what we are finding is that a lot of that huge inventory backlog that we've had is being whittled down, slow and sure."

Patricia Savani, a principal of Champion Realty Inc., in Anne Arundel County, said historically December is a slow month for listings because of the holidays. Nevertheless, she said, "We are definitely still hurting, no question.

"There is a lot of a demand for that affordable house in the $220,000 to $225,000 range. We are having a lot of difficulty finding what that buyer is looking for and still getting the community that they want and the amenities that they want," Savani added.

According to MRIS, there were 117 single-family detached homes for sale in Anne Arundel priced from $200,000 to $249,999 -- about 10 percent of listings. In Howard County, there were 37 homes in that price range out of 421 single-family detached homes.

"The market is tight. You have to be on top of things," Desser said. "In my office we check almost every hour. We have a list of what everyone is looking for. If something pops, [we] let them know. It might not be what they want, but at least [we] let them have an opportunity."

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