Baltimore-area home prices continued to rise in October, prompting an uptick in would-be sellers putting their houses on the market, according to a report released Monday.
The median price for homes sold last month rose just under 4 percent to $238,250 compared with a year earlier in the Baltimore region, extending a string of largely modest gains. About 15 percent more homes changed hands.
Homes newly listed last month in the city and five surrounding counties rose 27 percent compared with a year earlier, according to data from Rockville-based RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of MRIS. That was the biggest jump since a temporary federal credit for buyers convinced homeowners to test the market in early 2010.
"People are seeing some of the prices go up and they know there's a lack of inventory, so if they have a decent home they may think, 'Throw it on the market and see what happens,'" said Daraius Irani, executive director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.
But, he added, the market recovery's "still got a long way to go."
About 4,000 new homes went on the market last month, up from about 3,200 in October 2012, according to the report, which was prepared with George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis.
New listings swelled the active inventory of homes for sale to about 11,800 properties. That's up slightly from a year ago, but remains well below the 18,000 homes for sale in October 2010, during the financial crisis, and the July 2008 peak of 20,195.
The low inventory means that it's still a seller's market, particularly in desirable areas, real estate agents said.
"I still feel like inventory's low, painfully low, just because I have so many buyers who can't find what they want," Redfin agent Lynn Ikle said.
Eric Miles, 36, of Elkridge said he looked for more than 18 months before signing a contract last month on a Glenwood property, making an offer the day after he attended the open house.
He put his own home on the market last week with Ikle and said he is hopeful the process will finish more quickly. The Downs Avenue home has been shown every day since it was listed, he said.
"I don't have a contract on the house yet, so I can't say that I'm 100 percent ecstatic, but I'm certainly pleased with the turnout we've had so far," he said.
Overall, the Baltimore metro region, which includes Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, is a relatively balanced market, analysts said, with about five months' worth of inventory on stock. By contrast, the Washington metro area has just two months' worth.
Six months is considered about even between buyers and sellers.
Sales in the Baltimore region have kept pace with new listings, keeping overall inventory relatively low, said Corey Hart, a senior product manager Real Estate Busines Intelligence.
"The fact that we're seeing new listings going up and contracts going up at the same time that's a pretty good sign of a healthy market," Hart said.
A years-long stretch of price declines — here and nationwide — locked many homeowners in place because they owed more on their mortgages than they could sell for, or had too little equity to make a move worthwhile. That reduced the choices available to Baltimore-area buyers, helping reverse the price decline.
For the last 21 months, prices have risen an average of 4.9 percent, although they have yet to fully recover to pre-recession highs. The gains lag other, hotter markets such as the Washington area..
"Baltimore is much more moderate, but that might mean it's more sustainable," Hart said. "It's been steady."
Even as sellers are trying to take advantage of the price gains, buyers remain tentative, said Wayne Curtis of RE/MAX Advantage Realty. Pending sales rose 2.6 percent compared with last October, but just 0.6 percent since September.
The housing market traditionally slows during the fall and winter and speeds up during the spring, when families are more likely to plan moves.
"I guess nothing's better than … having sellers put their house on the market when buyers are not buying," Curtis said. "If people will hold on until springtime I think we should be able to have inventory get back up and have the buyers come out."
Homes in the Baltimore region sit on the market for a median of 39 days. In the D.C. area, homes typically sell in 16 days.
"People are reluctant to do anything right now," said Azam Khan, an agent with Long & Foster. "It's still steady and it's still growth. … It's not doom and gloom that's for sure but it's not at the clip that it was earlier on."