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Home sales in metro Baltimore rise 16.6 percent in August

Prices up from a year ago, but down from July

By Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun

6:33 PM EDT, September 10, 2013

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Sales of homes in metro Baltimore jumped nearly 17 percent in August from a year earlier, with demand pushing up the month's sales prices to the highest levels since 2008, according to a report released Tuesday.

The median price for a home sold last month was $252,000, 5 percent higher than in August 2012, reported RealEstate Business Intelligence and the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. The report is based on housing data from the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the region's listing service.

Compared with July, however, August sales were down 6.7 percent and prices fell 4.6 percent.

"That's mostly due to the typical season patterns of the housing market," said Corey Hart, senior product manager with RBI, a subsidiary of the listing service. "June and July are the peak season for everything, not just sales, but pricing and days on the market are lowest."

Housing activity generally picks up as one school year ends and before another begins, he said.

Comparing the housing market year-over-year, the median number of days a house was on the market fell from 49 a year ago to 31 last month. Units sold totaled 2,805 last month, compared to 2,405 a year earlier. Pending sales reached 2,919 last month, up 4.6 percent from last year.

"It's steadily improving," said Hart, adding that the Baltimore region has seen double-digit percentage gains in housing sales and new listings for five consecutive months.

Within the metro area, Baltimore saw the biggest year-over-year gain in prices last month. The median sales price in the city was $135,000 in August, up 12.6 percent. (The median is the midpoint, meaning half the homes sold for more and half for less.)

All but one county in the region — Harford — saw a year-over-year median sales price increase. Increases ranged from 3.2 percent in Anne Arundel County, where the median sales price in August was $320,000, to 5.6 percent in Howard County, where the median sales price reached $400,100. The median sales price in Harford County was $225,000, down 4.3 percent from a year ago.

The number of properties on the market continued to decline. The report found that the number of active listings at the end of August totaled 11,246, or more than 720 fewer than the year before. RBI predicted that the rise in sale prices and high demand will prompt more homeowners to put their houses on the market.

Eric Pakulla, a real estate agent with Re/Max Advantage Realty in Columbia, said sales remain strong for houses under $750,000. He noted that sales have cooled a bit since the spring, when interest rates ticked up and pushed some buyers to commit before rates went higher.

"Right now, we are at an equilibrium, a good neutral spot for buyers and sellers," he said. Inventory has fallen, and buyers and sellers are more realistic about prices, he said.

Nick Waldner, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Columbia, said sales in the counties have begun to slow as school starts up.

"The opposite effect is inside the city, where we see a lot of younger, 22-to-32 age bracket, buying in Canton, Federal Hill and Locust Point," he said.

"The sellers are more understanding about the market than a year or two years ago," Waldner said, adding that some buyers mistakenly believe its still a buyer's market.

"There isn't as much inventory, and better-priced houses sell quickly," he explained.

Banks are also using their influence to make sure home prices don't over-inflate, he added.

Waldner said one client's house, for instance, was worth $615,000, although he recommended pricing it at $599,000 because the seller wanted to close a deal within a month. At that price, the seller had three offers in five days, with the highest at $626,000, the agent said.

But the appraisal came in at $616,000, and the seller agreed to lower the price so the buyer could secure a loan from the bank.

"The banks are doing everything in their power to keep home prices from skyrocketing, and that goes with very strict appraisals," Waldner said.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com