August proved a strong month for home sales in the Baltimore region, as the number of completed sales and new sales contracts signed both increased by roughly 18 percent compared with the same month a year earlier, according to data released Monday by an affiliate of the region's multiple-listing service.
The average sales price in the region rose almost 4 percent over August 2011, with Baltimore City showing the greatest gain — a more than 15 percent year-over-year jump, according to sales figures from Rockville-based RealEstate Business Intelligence LLC.
The average sales price in the Baltimore metro area was just under $285,000 last month, the firm calculated.
"The housing market is generally improving in terms of home sales," said Celia Chen, a housing economist with Moody's Analytics, who attributed the uptick to an improving job market. "Home values are low right now relative to income."
In Baltimore and its five neighboring counties — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard — August saw 2,405 home sales close, 359 more than in August 2011, according to RBI. It was the largest number of sales in the month of August since 2007 and 3.6 percent higher than July's total.
Typically, the number of homes sold does not increase from July to August, RBI said in a statement, adding that the increase this year might signify pent-up demand in the market.
The increase in contracts in August indicates the trend is likely to continue into the fall. According to RBI data, prospective purchasers signed 2,791 contracts last month, 426 more than in August 2011. Most of those signed contracts will become completed sales in the next few months.
The sales numbers are not improving solely because of purchases by owner-occupiers, Chen said. Depressed prices continue to draw investors, who often buy homes to rent or to resell at a profit.
Investor-purchasers are partly responsible for the low home inventory, she said.
Also responsible for the tight supply is the large number of homeowners who are underwater, which may "cause them to think twice" before putting their home on the market, Chen said.
In August, the number of homes on the market dipped below 12,000 for only the second time since March 2006. The last time the number of active listings fell below that level was in February.
Last month, there were 11,970 active listings in the six jurisdictions. At the current level of demand, that supply will last just over five months, according to data compiled by the Maryland Association of Realtors. In August 2011, the housing inventory was projected to last nearly eight months.
RBI said the low inventory of homes, in conjunction with increased demand, is reducing how long homes stay on the market. The median time that a Baltimore-area home sold last month stayed on the market was 48 days, RBI said. That's down 17 days from August 2011 home sales, the firm said.
"The big challenge my clients are having is the lack of inventory," said Russell Chandler, a real estate agent with Redfin who focuses on homes in Howard County.
He estimated that well over half of the deals he has worked on recently have involved multiple offers.
In the competitive Howard County market, Chandler said, he has seen an increasing interest in townhouses. Buyers who don't want to look outside the county, which is popular because of its schools, and are unable to afford a single-family home are settling for townhouses because they are less expensive, he said.
The average home price in Howard County was $407,079 last month, $40,000 more than the average price in Anne Arundel County, which had the second-highest average sales price in the metro area, according to RBI.
Regionwide, the number of townhouses sold last month increased 14.2 percent over August 2011. Detached homes saw a 17.4 percent sales increase and condos a 30.5 percent bump-up.
Townhouse prices grew more in the last year than those of detached homes and condos, increasing 10.3 percent year-over-year, to a median of $182,000 in August, according to RBI.
The sales price for detached properties rose 5.6 percent, to a median of $313,500. The median condo price last month was $178,000, down 7.5 percent from August 2011.