It's also less competitive for buyers here than in a handful of hot-again markets, such as San Francisco and Washington. But the Baltimore market is tighter than it's been for years.

Jed Kolko, chief economist at real estate search site Trulia, said asking prices in the metro area began rising in February and were up nearly 4 percent in April, compared with a year earlier.

"Those asking price increases now should translate to sale price increases later this year," he said.

This shift comes as a nasty shock to buyers.

Igla bought his Baltimore rowhouse in 2005, when sellers could name their price. Now his family of four needs more space, and he can't sell for what he paid. But he figured he'd rent the home out and — silver lining — get a steal as a buyer on a nice Ellicott City home with a yard.

Renting out worked fine. Buying proved more problematic.

He and his wife, Lori, lost out on the first house they wanted because they hadn't lined a renter up yet and asked for the sale to be contingent upon that. The seller went with another buyer willing to pay the same amount with no such contingency.

That was in November. The Iglas found renters in February and tried again. But now they had a deadline: Be out in May.

The second time, they were outbid. Then they were outbid again — on a house that had been listed for just a few hours before buyers pounced. They were getting so anxious that they made three offers on homes they weren't wild about, wrung their hands and pulled out.

Igla, who had expected a nice change of pace from the last time he bought, was flabbergasted by how familiar it felt.

"I can't believe this is happening all over again," he said.

He and his wife got another shot in late April. The home had just hit the market. They really liked it. So they offered $5,000 above the asking price, including an escalation clause in the contract that would have upped the payment by $10,000 if they were neck-and-neck with other buyers.

Immediately after the owners accepted, four agents called to try to put in offers for their clients — too late. The Iglas had finally come out on top.

He figures he's getting the house for about $75,000 less than if he'd bought at the peak of the market. But the timing didn't quite work out. His family moved into temporary housing to make way for the renters. He hopes to close at the end of May.

Though agents say they are seeing multiple offers in a variety of neighborhoods across the region, the Iglas might have had an easier time outside Howard County. Nearly 30 percent of homes sold there in April were on the market for 10 days or less before buyers signed contracts, the highest in the region. Well-regarded schools and a location between Baltimore and Washington are a draw.

Pat Hiban, a Howard-based agent with 25 years' experience, said buyers are "weirded out" by the return of the bidding war. They think it's temporary: Wait, and more homes will hit the market.

One difficulty he sees is that about 125,000 people in the region are underwater on their mortgages, and home prices would have to rise considerably to allow them to sell. He doesn't think that will happen soon.

But multiple offers now — just a few years after the financial meltdown — strike him as odd.

"It's almost scary," said Hiban, of Keller Williams Crossroads Realty. "It happened too fast. … It shouldn't be hard for people to buy houses now after what we went through so recently."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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