Home Sales In Md. Rising

4.4% Quarterly Increase, Driven By D.c. Suburbs, Is 9th Largest In Country

August 13, 2009|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

Maryland was posting some of the steepest drops in home sales nationwide not long ago, but now it's among the gainers.

Home sales from April to June were up 4.4 percent compared with a year ago, the ninth-biggest increase in the country, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

The trade group said sales increased about 15 percent from the previous three months, topping all but six other states and Washington, D.C. The numbers are adjusted to try to account for typical variations in buying from one season to the next.

In the spring of last year, home sales in Maryland were down 30 percent - the sixth-largest drop.

The sales increase - which comes as prices fall - was driven by Maryland's Washington suburbs. Together, home sales in the counties of Montgomery, Prince George's and Frederick were up 16 percent over the spring of last year, according to separate figures from the Maryland Association of Realtors.

The Baltimore metro area was still on a sales decline in April and May. But it posted a small gain in June and has since picked up the pace.

Lenn Harley, broker-owner of Homefinders.com, who works with a network of real estate brokers in Maryland and Virginia, thinks the increase is more about investors snapping up foreclosures than buyers intending to live in the properties. She said her clients "lose contracts all the time" to investors.

"The investors - cash-buyer consortia - they're picking them up left and right," she said. "They're outbidding everybody else."

But John F. Sullivan, an associate broker with Buyer's Edge Co. in Bethesda, said he's seeing a definite increase in first-time home buyers. Sullivan, president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, thinks the sales pace is increasing both because of the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers and because employment around Washington hasn't been "clobbered" as much as the nation overall. Unemployment was 6.6 percent in the D.C. metro area in June. The jobless rate was 8 percent in the Baltimore area and topped 9 percent in half the metro areas in the country.

The first-time buyer tax credit has limits: It starts phasing out for single buyers making at least $75,000 and married couples earning $150,000 or more. It's set to expire this fall.

"I expect a mad rush in the next month or so," Harley said. "You have to close by Nov. 30."

All told, spring home sales rose in nine states and D.C. versus a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors said. Nevada, up 77 percent, reported the biggest gain.

The trade group also released home prices for metro areas Wednesday, which showed declining values in most areas. Median prices for single-family homes dropped almost 10 percent in the Baltimore area, which ranked the region 97th out of 155 metro areas.

Second from the top was Cumberland in Western Maryland, which reported a 22 percent gain. The median price there was $123,500, meaning half the homes sold for more and half for less. The median price in the Baltimore metro area was $253,000 - twice as high.

The biggest year-over-year decrease came in Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., down 53 percent to $84,000.

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