The mood of Americans has started to improve in the wake of war, and nowhere is their upbeat attitude reflected more clearly than in the housing market.
National sales of both new and existing homes all pointed higher, according to two housing reports released last week.
Experts who feared the torrid housing market was cooling because of a sales dip in late winter now credit stronger-than-expected home sales in April to rock-bottom mortgage rates and more favorable consumer attitudes.
"Consumer confidence rebounded because of the relatively quick war with Iraq," said David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
April new-home sales rose 1.7 percent from March, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of just over 1 million, the third-fastest pace since the Commerce Department began tracking the data in 1963.
The Realtors' group said sales of previously owned homes increased 5.6 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.84 million units from a 5.53 million pace in March.
Separate housing figures show sales of new and used homes fell in the Baltimore area recently, though experts attribute that to a thin inventory. Inventory in the Baltimore area was down 15.13 percent compared with April 2002 at 6,588 active listings. And homes took an average of 54 days to sell in April - 20 days fewer than during April last year.
Sales in Baltimore and the five surrounding counties fell 9.2 percent in April to 2,893 homes, according to Rockville-based Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., which tracks sales. Sales fell in every jurisdiction except Harford County, which saw a 3.6 percent increase from April of last year to 259 homes.
The biggest decrease was in Baltimore, where the number of homes sold fell 21.72 percent to 656 units.
New-home sales in the Baltimore region fell 5.7 percent during the first quarter to 1,602 houses, according to the Meyers Group, a real estate information company that tracks such sales.
The median existing-home price nationally in April was $163,400, up 6.8 percent from that month a year ago. Prices in the Baltimore area grew 21.8 percent to $162,000 in April compared with April 2002.
Rates on 30-year mortgages dropped to 5.31 percent last week, according to Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant based in Washington. It is the lowest rate in 40 years.
The strong housing market will likely continue, said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics Ltd. in Valhalla, N.Y.
"With applications for new mortgages for house purchases recently hitting new highs, sales can be sustained at this level or even higher," he said.
Shepherdson added that the rise in existing-home sales has as much to do with better weather in March as the end of the war.
"Sales are well-supported at this level, though rising supply means slower price increases."
John Handley writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. A Sun staff writer contributed to this article.