The hot Baltimore housing market continued its upward spiral in May as sales of existing homes rose 13.17 percent above those in May 2000.
The increase marked the ninth consecutive month of higher sales that began in September when the market broke out of a sluggish spring and summer as fixed-rate 30-year mortgages began to drop from 9 percent to about 7.25 percent now.
Carroll and Harford counties had the biggest percentage changes, gaining 38.92 percent and 34.03 percent, respectively, according to statistics released yesterday by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the multiple list database used by real estate brokers.
Baltimore City was up 22.71 percent, followed by Baltimore County, up 9.92 percent; Howard County, up 2.65 percent; and Anne Arundel, 1.25 percent higher.
The market's depth and strength are amazing to many real estate agents.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Blaine Milner, president of the Howard County Association of Realtors in a county where prices are soaring and the number of homes from which to choose is shrinking.
"You have to change your thinking all the way around. It's the most peculiar market that I've ever seen. I've never seen as aggressive [a market] as we have now." In Howard County, the average days on the market for a home dropped from 42 days in May 2000 to 38 days last month. Of the 426 homes sold, 310 sold within the first 30 days.
For Patrick Welsh, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, the boom that has been going on in most of the region may be the best he has seen.
"I think overall for the Baltimore metropolitan area, this is ... definitely better than the '80s," said Welsh, who manages the Eastpoint/Dundalk office for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., which reported that May was the best month in the company's 33-year history with sales of slightly less than $2 billion, based on 9,239 properties in the mid-Atlantic region.
By most indications, the boom is going to continue.
Pending sales, those contracts signed but yet to settle, were up 16.78 percent last month over May 2000.
The one nagging consequence of such a hot market is that the supply has been whittled away by the continuing demand. Last month, 10,661 homes were on the market in the Baltimore metro area, 294 fewer than in April and 2,176 fewer than in May 2000.
"The inventory is so low that [a buyer] can't wait and sit around and say, `Let me see what's going to be on the market next week or next month.' because it is not there," said Judy Tyree, manager of the Westminster office for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA and president of the Carroll County Association of Realtors.
Tyree added that in highly sought neighborhoods, listings have been slow to materialize, making choices "much slimmer" for frustrated buyers.
She even noted that bidding wars - known to happen in Roland Park, Guilford, Columbia and Annapolis, but a rarity in her area - have erupted.
"Multiple offers are finally coming to Carroll County," Tyree said. "They are not dickering. They are offering full price, close to full price."
Although the region's average sales price for homes remained essentially unchanged at $156,188, Carroll County saw a 13.43 percent increase to $193,889. The average sales price in Howard County rose by 8.65 percent to $219,586, compared with $202,111 in May 2000.
For single-family detached homes in Howard County with four or more bedrooms, the average sales price climbed from $295,271 to $346,951, a 17.5 percent rise.
Yet, skyrocketing prices haven't fazed buyers in Howard County.
"We seem to have plenty of buyers ... to buy them," Milner said. "The biggest challenge is finding the property."