Home sales in the Baltimore region continued to rise at a double-digit pace in September, numbers released Thursday show.
The number of homes changing hands last month increased 17 percent compared with a year earlier, according to RealEstate Business Intelligence. It was the sixth month in a row that sales grew more than 10 percent.
Prices have risen for most of the year, too. The typical home in the Baltimore region sold for $245,000 in September, up just over 4 percent from a year earlier, RealEstate Business Intelligence said. The Rockville company is part of the firm that runs the region's multiple-listing service used to buy and sell properties.
The number of homes for sale in the Baltimore area fell in September, continuing a 21/2 -year trend. But the decline in choices was modest. And homes newly on the market — the listings that get the most attention from buyers — are on the rise, increasing by 22 percent.
Jonathan Hill, president of RealEstate Business Intelligence, said better market conditions for sellers are tempting more homeowners into the fray.
"It's apparent that more sellers are being brought back into the market," he said. "They see prices are increasing, so they're taking advantage of it."
It's not just price. The time it takes to sell has continued to fall, too, at 69 days on average in September compared with 97 a year earlier. And Hill said the fear of higher mortgage rates can motivate sellers as well as buyers.
"Sellers become buyers," he said. "The majority is moving up."
The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is about 4.2 percent this week, mortgage-financing giant Freddie Mac said Thursday. That's unchanged from last week and lower than in the summer, but nearly a full percentage point higher than at the start of the year.
"If you look back over 2013, it's been a year characterized by increased home prices, increased home sales and increasing mortgage rates," said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Such rate movement can get some buyers — and sellers — off the fence, but it also prices some potential purchasers out. Washington is another wild card, with the partial federal government shutdown weighing on the local economy and the threat of default sending jitters through the stock and government bond markets in recent days.
Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance in Bethesda, said the political wrangling in D.C. can easily have a negative effect on housing because people don't make such a big-ticket purchase if they're worried about their jobs, their investments and the economy's effect on home prices.
"One of the things we've seen over the last five years … is that it doesn't take a lot to spook home buyers," he said. "There are a lot of pieces that need to be place, and they've been precariously in place for the last year or so. It's not going to take a lot to knock them apart."
But Washington's problems, which worsened in October, had little obvious effect on the September housing market. The median home price — the midpoint for sales — rose in much of the Baltimore area last month compared with a year earlier, RealEstate Business Intelligence said.
The biggest gains came in Carroll County, where prices rose 19 percent — the ripple effect of pricier homes changing hands across all categories, from condos to townhouses to single-family homes. Baltimore followed with a 14 percent increase, driven largely by pricier condos and rowhomes.
Median prices rose about 3 percent in Anne Arundel County and about 2 percent in Baltimore County, were unchanged in Howard County and slipped about 1 percent in Harford County.
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