Area home sales rose 9% in Feb.

Snow doesn't deter buyers, but prices continue to fall

March 11, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

Back-to-back snowstorms shut down the region for days last month, but people still managed to buy and sell more homes.

The number of homes changing hands in the Baltimore metro area increased almost 10 percent from a year earlier, on par with the previous two months, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems said Wednesday. Pending deals appeared to be more affected: The 7 percent uptick in contracts signed in February was the smallest year-over-year increase in months.

And values continued to drop. The average sale price was about $271,200, a decrease of almost 4 percent from a year earlier.

Kenneth Wenhold, director of the Mid-Atlantic region for Metrostudy, a firm that does market research for builders, expected the 40-plus inches of snow would affect February sales more than it did.

"What we've heard from the Realtors as well as other clients of ours ... is that the activity in the last couple of weeks has really picked up from where it was before the storm, and in fact might be a little bit stronger," Wenhold added.

Contract-signing had been increasing at a double-digit clip since last spring, a turnaround many economists attributed to the enticement of an $8,000 tax credit for first-time purchasers. But Wenhold said the region's housing market was starting to turn around anyway, and the credit was less of a motivator than "the cherry on top."

Sellers will get to see how buyers react without the incentive after April 30, the last day to sign a contract and still qualify for the $8,000. Buyers must close by June 30.

Miriam Kelly, who's trying to sell a home in Baltimore, is afraid the market will be hurt when the credit ends. As it is, she's had a hard time selling the two-bedroom rowhouse, renovated last year as an investment. It's been sitting empty for nine months.

Like many sellers, she's lowered her asking price - from $95,000 to $85,000. She's also offering to finance the deal herself, as long as a buyer puts 20 percent down.

"I think that what hinders [a sale] is that people just aren't looking in that area," said Kelly, whose property is in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore. "They want a trendier area."

Home sales remain far below their peak in 2005. More than 2,700 homes sold that February, compared with just fewer than 1,200 last month. But most of the region is seeing sales pick up compared with last year - particularly Baltimore, which recorded a 25 percent jump over February 2009. The only drop came in Harford County, down about 3 percent.

Average prices fell about 2 percent in Anne Arundel County; 3 percent in Harford County; 6 percent in Howard County; and 11 percent in Baltimore. Prices rose 1 percent in Baltimore County and 2 percent in Carroll County.

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