Home sales in the Baltimore area surged in April, but the median home price dropped $10,000 on average from last year. Inventories remain high.
The median sales price last month in the Baltimore region was $230,000, down more than 4 percent from last year, according to an analysis released Monday by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems.
John L. Heithaus, RBI's vice president of sales, said the drop in the median home price wasn't anything to worry about.
"I find it to be misleading and, worse, irrelevant to a typical homebuyer," he said. "It's like a silly number. What you do want to see is price appreciation happening in the market. Appreciation is building and home equity is building, and that's a good thing for the community."
He added: "The vital signs in the Baltimore real estate market are strong."
The month saw a flurry of activity, with the number of new contracts at 4,387, the highest April level and highest overall number in a decade, according to the analysis. The number of new contracts has risen year-over-year for 11 consecutive months.
Closed sales were 2,796, up nearly 23 percent from last April and up 10.4 percent compared to March. Year-to-date, the number of sales across the region is up more than 27 percent compared to 2014, with 2,000 more homes sold than at this point last year.
Yet the problems of the housing market crash remain a drag, particularly in Baltimore City. Foreclosure activity in the city remains stubbornly high, with 223 foreclosure sales and 34 short sales in April — nearly 38 percent of all homes sold. Across the region, there were 580 foreclosure sales and 119 short sales, about 25 percent of all sales.
"You could say foreclosure activity is too strong, but that's what Baltimore's been for a long time," Heithaus said. "Baltimore is definitely one of the higher foreclosure markets in the country, so I think we have good reason to believe that for the next three to four years we're going to see a high number of foreclosure sales as the air gets let out of the balloon."
The high number of distressed properties on the market are a holdover from the housing market crash, but many in Baltimore are being rehabbed by investors, said Ross Mackesey, the president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.
"A lot of the distressed properties in the city were not owner-occupied anyway," he said. "It's good for the city because most of the investors today are investing additional money in rehabbing them and flipping them or rehabbing them and turning them into rentals, so they're spending money and improving the housing stock. But Baltimore City still has a major vacancy problem."
The inventory of homes for sale continued to increase for the 19th consecutive month, with 12,659 properties on the market at the end of April, an increase of 5.8 percent compared to last April.
Mackesey said that the Baltimore area has been mostly a seller's market.
But, he added, "that doesn't mean that every seller can call the shots because as you move up the price points — and it varies by county — but typically in the metro area once you get over say $550,000, it turns into a buyers' market."
In Baltimore, the median sales price declined from $119,700 to $102,750, with a 19.2 percent increase in sales to 684.
Howard County had the highest median sales price at $390,000, up 2.1 percent from last year, with an 8.5 percent increase in the number of sales to 295.
Median sales prices in Anne Arundel County fell 2.5 percent to $300,000, with 629 closed sales, an 18.7 percent increase over April 2014.
Baltimore County had a 3.4 percent drop in the median sales price to $205,000, with a 24.2 percent increase in sales to 740.
Mackesey said that the less popular suburbs of Carroll and Harford County "seem to be getting traction now."
Carroll County saw a 9 percent increase in median sales price to $286,750, the largest increase in sales price. The county also had a 53.9 percent increase in number of sales over last year, to 200.
The median sales price in Harford County increased 5.5 percent over the year before to $234,600, with a 42.5 percent increase in sales to 248.
"Those markets have been soft for a very long time," Mackesey said. But Carroll County "seems to have gotten relatively healthy," while Harford County "surpassed even the BRAC year," he said, referring to the military base realignment that brought thousands to the county.