Area housing market shows continuing recovery

Recovery continues in Baltimore housing market.

The Baltimore area home market showed more signs of recovery last month, as sales hit their highest March mark since 2007 and new contracts rose for a 10th straight month, a real estate analyst reported Friday.

Closed sales rose 23.6 percent compared with March 2014, with gains across the board led by townhomes, followed by single-family homes and condominiums, according to the report by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems.

New contracts in March also showed strong gains in all housing categories, rising nearly 20 percent compared with March 2014 to mark the single best month for new contracts since March 2006.

Meanwhile, a large number of foreclosures continued to drag on prices. Median sales prices for the city and five surrounding counties rose 1.1 percent when compared with last March — from $227,500 to $230,075.

Still, the analysis is another in a series of monthly reports showing that the residential real estate market continues to rebound from the collapse of 2008 and 2009.

Real estate analysts had predicted a strong spring market as the job outlook improves, interest rates remain low and lenders begin easing some restrictions on credit.

John L. Heithaus, RBI's vice president of sales, said Thursday that he was struck by the "strength and vitality of this trend."

"It's encouraging when I see stats on a month-to-month basis" showing several signs of recovery, he said, including closed sales, new contracts and rising inventories of available properties.

Ross Mackesey, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said he also was encouraged by the fact that standard sales continued to rise, although distressed property sales — short sales and foreclosures — also were prevalent, particularly in Baltimore City.

In the city, the median sales price dropped 24 percent to $87,500 when compared to last March, reflecting the fact that foreclosure sales rose more than 72 percent, accounting for more than one-third of all home sales in the city. The median sales price for a lender-owned home in the city was $38,500, compared with $166,250 for standard transactions.

In Baltimore County, lender-owned properties made up 23 percent of sales, and the difference in price between lender-owned and conventional sales also was stark: $122,025 versus $238,700. Nonetheless, the median price there rose 4.2 percent to $208,350.

The median price dropped 8.7 percent to $365,162 in Howard County and 2.2 percent to $259,250 in Carroll County. Mackesey said the Howard County drop could reflect the sale of more townhomes compared with single-family houses.

The biggest price increase came in Harford County, where the median of $230,000 marked a 9.5 percent gain. The median price was about flat in Anne Arundel with a half-percent rise to $299,450.

The inventory of available homes continues to expand, and has increased from the year before for 18 consecutive months, RBI reported. Compared to last March, the number grew nearly 10 percent to 4,907.

More homes on the market, particularly in the lower price ranges, tends to bring more people out to look, said Heithaus, another sign of recovery.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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