www.baltimoresun.com/business/real-estate/bs-bz-baltimore-home-sales-september-20111010,0,1051842.story

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Baltimore-area home listings dropped in September

Sales up slightly, but prices continue to decline

By Liz F. Kay and Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

8:06 PM EDT, October 10, 2011

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As prices continue to drop, Baltimore-area residents appear increasingly reluctant to put their homes up for sale, according to real estate data released Monday.

The number of homes newly listed for sale fell 23 percent in September, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which runs the region's multiple-listing service. That was the second-largest decline — surpassed only by January 2009, during the financial crisis — since the company began tracking the area in the late 1990s.

And it was the fourth straight month that new listings for the city and its five surrounding counties decreased compared with the previous year.

September's record-setting precipitation may be partly to blame. Noah Mumaw, a real estate agent with Yerman, Witman, Gaines and Conklin, said the rain that poured down on the region, damaging roofs and causing other problems, discouraged sellers from listing.

"Your house has to be perfect," he said Monday.

The limited flow of new property listings in recent months may have aided Jessica Trzyna and her husband, who sold their townhouse in Owings Mills New Town in August.

"We didn't know what to expect," she said. "You hear stories on both sides of the spectrum," with some properties snatched up within a week and others languishing for more than a year.

They sold their home for slightly less than the price they had paid for it in 2004 — despite completing about $15,000 worth of improvements, such as installing a new furnace and replacing linoleum floors with tile in the kitchen and dining room. They also removed a 350-gallon saltwater fish tank from the basement and created an exercise room, she said.

"It was a little bit of … take the plunge and hope your parachute opens," Trzyna said.

Luckily, the home did sell for their asking price — $229,000 — which they had dropped only once. "While it was on the market, I saw housing prices continuing to fall. That made me really nervous," she said. "We just couldn't take a huge loss."

If it did not sell by the end of the summer, Trzyna said they were prepared to rent it out. When they put it on the market, the couple had already started paying a construction loan to build a new house in Finksburg.

Although they took a loss on the old house, she feels they got a great deal on the new one.

"We recognized this wasn't going to be a money-making deal for us," Trzyna said. "We also recognized because of the way the economy was, we were getting a much nicer house than we would have been able to afford had the economy been what it was in 2006, 2007, 2008."

Mumaw said this is the most price-sensitive market he's seen in eight years of working in real estate.

"Unless a house is priced competitively, you're not getting any offers," he said. "Sometimes it's just a 5 percent difference in list price that really helps you bring in an offer."

But Mumaw has had numerous appointments with sellers this month and believes next month's real estate data will be more favorable.

According to the MRIS data, pending deals struck in September — which will turn into sales within a few months if all goes smoothly — rose about 12 percent from a year earlier.

Home prices continued to slide in September, MRIS said. The average home sold for about $274,000, slipping less than 1 percent compared with a year earlier.

A federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers that gave a temporary boost to sales expired in September 2010, but the majority of those deals closed by June of that year. Sales have fallen most of the months since in the Baltimore region, a switch economists have blamed in part on the tax credit encouraging buyers to act sooner than they otherwise would have, "stealing" sales from the future.

Just over 1,870 homes changed hands last month in the Baltimore region. That was about a 1 percent increase from a year earlier, but it was the second-lowest figure for the month of September since MRIS began tracking the area in the late 1990s.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/realestatewonk

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