A snowy February threw a slight chill on shopping for homes throughout the Baltimore region, but prices continued to rise.
The number of pending sales — properties under contract but not yet closed — dipped to about 2,440 last month, about 40 fewer than a year earlier, according to data provided by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of the MRIS multiple listing service.
Baltimore's home sales market withstood the cold better than Washington's, where the number of new contracts declined by more than 11 percent, RBI found.
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"Those numbers hold up pretty well," Corey Hart, a senior product manager for RBI, said of Baltimore's housing figures. "Despite the harsh weather, there wasn't that big of a decline, so we can expect to see a really active March."
Aside from the 1.7 percent slip in pending sales, the Baltimore area real estate market showed positive signs across almost all other indicators last month. And analysts said they expect the growth to accelerate as spring gets under way.
Regionwide, the median home price rose to $227,000, its highest February value in five years, and an increase of 7.6 percent compared to last year, according to the monthly report. Townhouses, with a median price of about $175,000, posted the strongest gains of the different types of property, up 9.5 percent year-over-year and 46 percent since their values bottomed out in February 2011.
"That 46 percent jump is pretty remarkable," Hart said. "All signs point to a healthy market."
In the metro area, Baltimore City's home values had the highest growth, with a year-over-year increase of 17.5 percent to a median price of $104,000. Howard County continued to have the most expensive homes, with a median home price of $339,900, despite declining 3.6 percent compared to last year.
Scott Lederer, Maryland regional president and broker for Prudential Homesale YWGC Realty, said he does not believe the price gains indicate "another bubble situation," pointing to more stringent valuation procedures that he said are helping keep price appreciation in check.
The price increases have helped reduce the pressure on some homeowners. The share of underwater mortgages in Maryland dropped from almost 24 percent at the end of 2012 to about 16 percent at the end of 2013, according to a quarterly report from information company CoreLogic.
"Their house is worth more money, and whether they've decided to move up or down, they're in a position to sell their home and get out from under it," said Dean Cottrill, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Mid-Atlantic.
Tight inventory could be driving price gains, RBI's report said. About 10,100 properties were on the market in February in Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, up more than 7 percent compared to last year, but still about half of the 2008 peak, according to the metro-region report.
Last month's frigid, snowy weather led many owners to hold off on trying to sell their properties, but Cottrill said "pent-up demand" will make spring's traditional busy market even busier.
"We're excited and think we're going to see a nice big surge of activity," he said.
About 1,500 sales in Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties closed in February, increasing 5.9 percent compared to last year.
"Last year was a good year in real estate. We're getting off to a slower start, but I do believe 2014 holds a lot of promise for the Baltimore metro area," Lederer said.