Home sales and housing predictions

Today's story about home sales includes information about the recent drop in mortgage rates, in case you've been wondering where things stand:

Benchmark 30-year mortgage rates dropped from a national average of 6.3 percent Friday to 6 percent yesterday, according to financial publisher HSH Associates, thanks to the weekend announcement of the takeover of Freddie and Fannie. That's a big drop in a short period of time - considering that rates were 6.5 percent a week earlier. For borrowers, a drop in rates of half a percentage point means nearly $100 a month savings on a $300,000 mortgage.

Whether that will translate into more home sales -- or affect prices -- is anyone's guess.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says he continues to expect that prices will fall in many places, Baltimore included. "It won't be one of the worst-hit cities -- it's not going to be a Miami or San Diego -- but I'd be very surprised if you didn't see a substantial price decline there," he told me.

Some of you watching the averages and medians, and thinking it doesn't seem like a substantial drop yet, have wondered when, if ever. Economists predicting declines chalk it up to delayed reactions and sellers holding out as long as possible. (As some sellers who have taken a haircut will tell you, averages and medians don't always reflect what's happening to individual properties.)

Another perspective comes from The PMI Group's most recent "Market Risk Index," which uses first-quarter data. It considers the Baltimore metro area at pretty low risk of price drops in the next two years. (California and Florida metro areas top the risk list.) PMI bases its predictions on past home prices, affordability and unemployment rates.

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