After a flat April, the median home sales price in metro Baltimore increased in May from a year earlier, according to data released Monday by the region's multiple-listing service.
The median price for a home sold last month in greater Baltimore was $250,000, up 5.3 percent from May 2012, said RealEstate Business Intelligence LLC, the data arm of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.
"It's finding its footing," said Daraius Irani, executive director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. "It's not leaping and bounding. It's crawling."
The Baltimore area's modest price growth last month, although combined with double-digit sales growth, indicates that home values here are continuing to recover in a restrained way, experts say.
"It's healthy. People aren't going crazy," said Lynn Mauk, branch vice president in Ellicott City for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "Prices are going up a little bit."
Condos saw the largest median price gain in May, up 13.5 percent from a year ago. Single-family detached homes rose 8.4 percent, and townhouses were up 7.3 percent.
"There's still room to grow," Corey Hart, senior product manager for RBI, said of Baltimore-area home prices. "It appears to be sustainable. We wouldn't consider this the beginning of a new bubble."
For the month of May, the median sale price for Baltimore-area residences peaked at $274,250 in 2007.
"We're … seeing a few things going over list," said Wayne Curtis, an agent with RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Baltimore. But appraisals, required for mortgage transactions, are for the most part preventing offers from exceeding property values, he said.
The one exception, Curtis said, is with cash transactions, which don't need an appraisal. There were nearly 600 cash purchases in May in metro Baltimore. At about 20 percent, cash buys made up roughly the same portion of sales last month as in May 2012, according to RBI.
Increasing prices are a natural result of the current limited supply, Mauk said. And although multiple offers are coming in on fairly priced properties in desirable communities, buyers are not willing to escalate their competing offers too much, she said.
There were about 11,000 homes available for sale through the multiple-listing service last month in Baltimore and its five surrounding counties — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard.
That's about 1,700 fewer homes than were listed during May 2012 and is the lowest inventory for May since 2005, when there were about 5,700 listings.
"Despite the continual inventory shortage, new listings are showing signs of life," RBI said in a statement prepared with the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.
There were 4,772 homes listed for sale in May, nearly 20 percent more than the number of new listings in May 2012. It was the second month in a row that had double-digit year-over-year growth in new listings and the "sharpest gain for any month since April 2010," according to RBI.
Despite these new listings, the active inventory is not growing considerably. There were only about 500 more homes listed at the end of May than the end of April, according to the multiple-list data.
"Inventory is remaining low because demand is relatively high," Hart said. The market seems to be absorbing the new inventory quickly, he said.
The median days on the market for homes sold last month fell to 26, 18 days fewer than in May 2012 and the shortest time on market since June 2006, RBI said.
"It is possible that many of the new listings are going to contract the same month they are listed," RBI said.
Mauk said some agents in her office have been out canvassing neighborhoods, asking homeowners whether they're thinking of selling, because buyers are clamoring for properties. At least one property sold through her office last month was under contract in less than a day, she said.
"Buyers want in and they want in quickly," she said.
Last month, the modest inventory did not prevent many buyers from settling on a new home. There were nearly 2,800 residences sold last month, an increase of 17 percent from May 2012, RBI's data shows. Nearly 3,700 homes went under contract, an 18 percent increase.
For the Baltimore region, which has steady job growth and is not undergoing large demographic shifts, these numbers seem consistent with home buyers looking for a long-term investment to occupy, said Irani, the Towson economist.
"What's left there is real demand," he said.