`Better' week gives cause for optimism

Stream of agents, buyers at showings raises realty hopes

`People still have to move'

Those in industry concerned over drop in prospects' assets

September 30, 2001|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

In the weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the economic aftershocks can still be felt. Layoffs. Talk of recession. Sinking consumer confidence. A sagging stock market.

But as agents came through a midweek open house in Homeland and buyers poked through a Sunday showing in Stoneleigh and a townhouse development in Owings Mills, it was apparent that after the initial shock, the real estate market in Baltimore is cautiously optimistic.

"It was very quiet last week. This week it has been better," said Sue Gould, an agent with the Towson South office for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA. Gould had a steady stream of potential buyers come through her open house on Kenleigh Road in Stoneleigh last Sunday.

"What I am worried about is that [buyers] will pause," Gould said, but added that the reality is that "people still have to move."

"People who are looking at houses right now are people who need a house right now. People who have sold and need to buy," she said. "Making a big, buying decision might be difficult right now."

Donn W. Layne, manager of the Roland Park office for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., said he was encouraged by the "40 to 50" agents who came to take a look at a Homeland residence during a "brokers open" on Wednesday.

"If people didn't have buyers for properties, they probably wouldn't be coming through here," Layne said.

Agents who toured the four-bedroom home said that events since Sept. 11 have not had a severe impact on the industry.

"I think things are going to settle in the next couple of weeks, and I think people will get back to business as usual," said Christopher Kroft, a Long & Foster agent who sells in the Baltimore market as well as in Silver Spring.

If there is one concern among agents, however, it's that buyers' portfolios aren't as valuable as they were before Sept. 11.

William Wilkie, 31, and Jennifer Whittier, 29, are getting married in April. But their hopes of purchasing a single-family home changed when the stock market sank.

Instead, they spent part of last Sunday looking at a new, but less expensive, townhouse in Owings Mills New Town.

"After this past week's events, the market is not going to come up really any time soon. It is going to be very slow," Whittier said. "Let's just get the townhouse. It's going to be a good decision, live here five or 10 years and get a single-family home later."

Stock market swoon

Consequently, the stock market swoon has only heightened buyers' awareness of real estate as a potential fixed asset.

"People are very optimistic about investments in real estate, especially when considering the stock market," Kroft said.

"The point is they just aren't making real estate any more. What better investment is there?" he asked.

For Michael and Lisa Crok, time is short to find another place to live after they sold their Guilford home just before Sept. 11.

"I think there is going to be a knee-jerk reaction to the real estate market in the next 30 to 60 days," said Lisa Crok, who added that they have to be out of their house within the next three weeks. "We're desperate, so we are going to buy no matter what. But most people aren't as desperate as we are."

Jennifer Stoner isn't desperate, but she is pregnant, expecting another child - her third - and the Stoneleigh home was a possibility. Nevertheless, she expressed trepidation about making the move with so much uncertainty hovering.

"I'm kind of scared to buy a new house now with everything going on," Stoner said.

"But regardless of what happens in the world, babies still do come, and we need to find space for them."

`Strong market'

Added Crok: "We're still having a strong market. Every open house that we are going to has had a lot of people. That is what we've been seeing all over."

And that is what Realtors are counting on - that people who need houses are going to be in the market.

"People are waiting for houses because there hasn't been much inventory," said Sarah Taylor, who works in the Stonemill office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA.

"The people who were set to buy before are still set to buy ... whatever happens."

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