Home sales slid in Feb.

Metro-area prices fell 6.5%, and number sold slipped 31%

March 11, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Skittish homebuyers ran up against sellers unwilling to budge on prices in February, keeping the number of homes sold in metropolitan Baltimore at one of its lowest monthly levels this decade, statistics released yesterday show.

Fewer than 1,100 homes sold in the Baltimore area last month, a drop of more than 31 percent compared with a year earlier, real estate tracker Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. said. Prices for homes sold fell 6.5 percent to an average $282,034.

Buyers worried about job security or waiting for prices to fall even more were reluctant to bid on homes, real estate experts said. And many lack the stellar credit lenders now require to qualify for financing.

"Potential buyers are wondering, 'Have we reached bottom yet?' " said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics for the RESI consulting arm of Towson University. "Unfortunately, the bottom is hard to find in this market."

Some sellers are unwilling to accept less for a home than they bought it for, especially if they purchased at the height of the market a few years ago, experts said. Many sellers who owe more than the properties are worth must bring money to the table to pay off loans.

"There's still a stubbornness of sellers to adjust their pricing," said Dominic Cantalupo, an associate broker with Champion Realty. "Some of it is ... I simply can't go lower. I owe too much."

More than 17,500 homes were listed for sale in the region in February.

In areas such as Canton and Federal Hill in Baltimore, many homes for sale were purchased when those neighborhoods commanded higher prices, said Noah Mumaw, a Coldwell Banker agent in Cross Keys. Many sellers "don't understand the homes are not worth more than what they bought them for two or three years ago," he said. "They're worth less. That's tough for people to swallow."

Sales in Baltimore and the five surrounding counties have been down on a monthly basis by more than 30 percent in nine of the past 14 months. But the total number of sales last month - 1,071 and in January 1,015 - were fewer than in any month this decade.

Even so, real estate agents say that telephone calls about homes for sale and requests to see them have increased during the past several weeks. Some of the interest is being spurred by the Obama administration's $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers. And price reductions also are attracting many, agents said.

After Champion Realty displayed a sign advertising foreclosure listings outside its Pasadena office, "people have been coming in left and right to get that," Cantalupo said.

But they often expect too deep of a price discount or don't realize it can take several months for the bank that foreclosed on the home to approve the sale.

Sellers in February got 88.1 percent, on average, of their asking price, compared with 91 percent a year ago. It took an average of more than 4 1/2 months to sell a home in the metro area last month, MRIS said, slightly longer than in February 2008.

Michaelangelo Riccobene has had no offers on his five-bedroom waterfront rancher on Stony Creek in Pasadena since listing it in September and dropping the price twice to just under $1.2 million. He bought the home 12 years ago and has remodeled it. It has a sunroom, den, two fireplaces and a pool house.

"It's not the right time to sell, but I don't really have a choice," said Riccobene, a residential remodeling contractor. "Business has slowed down. My choice was to go ahead and sell and relax instead of worrying about the mortgage payments."

Now he is throwing in his $80,000 boat as part of the package.

"I either continue lowering my price or I give something away that no one else is doing," Riccobene said. "You have to be creative."

Buyers are simply not rushing into the market.

Chuck Eaton, an accountant for FTI Consulting, said he hopes to buy a home with his fiancee and rent out her townhouse.

"It seems like a perfect time to do it, now that home prices are dropping," Eaton said. "I really have an idea of what I want in a house. If it doesn't look right, I don't take time to look. There's plenty of stuff out there."

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