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Home prices dip in August, as number for sale rises

The median home price in the Baltimore metro area fell in August for the second month in a row as the number of the homes on the market continued to rise, according to a monthly report published Wednesday.

The median sales price for the region dipped to $245,000, dropping 2.8 percent last month compared with the same period in 2013, according to the survey by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of the MRIS multiple-listing service.

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Analysts had predicted downward pressure on prices as the supply of homes on the market increased. August marked the 11th consecutive month of year-over-year increases in inventory, with 13,940 homes for sale, 24 percent more than a year ago.

Roughly 4,435 homes entered the market last month, a nearly 9 percent year-over-year increase and the 17th straight month of annual growth in new listings.

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"There's less competition among buyers because there's more inventory," said Corey Hart, senior product manager for RBI. "That can have a leveling effect on prices."

But demand remains steady, he said. Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties reported 2,836 closed sales, up 1.1 percent year-over-year. Despite the modest increase, it is the highest number of August sales since 2007.

With signs that growth in new inventory is starting to slow, the numbers show a fairly balanced market, analysts and industry members said.

"We seem to have lost our volatility," said Denie Dulin, leader of the Dulin Group with Long & Foster. "The biggest thing is that people are choosing to move because they want to, not because they have to. That mindset, psychologically, has been really positive."

Housing has remained a relatively weak performer in the overall economy.

A Mortgage Bankers Association survey released Wednesday found that the number of mortgage applications in the United States fell 7.2 percent last week, to the lowest level since December 2000. Fixed 30-year mortgage rates averaged 4.27 percent for the week, up from 4.25 percent the week before — the first increase in four weeks.

The survey covers more than 75 percent of U.S. retail residential mortgage applications, according to the association.

Hart said Baltimore's housing market is faring better than the Washington area's, where the number of sales fell 9 percent year-over-year. The median sales price there, $415,000, was flat compared with last year.

"If the Baltimore area is keeping pace with its 2013 [performance], then it's doing well, even if it's flat," he said, predicting "slow and steady" gains through the fall. "All in all, it's a relatively decent picture."

Harford County experienced the biggest boost in home prices, with the median price up 17.8 percent year-over-year to $265,000. (That figure is likely skewed by a somewhat small sample size, Hart said.) The median sales price also increased slightly in Anne Arundel County, up less than 1 percent year-over-year to $320,000.

Prices dropped or remained steady elsewhere. In Howard County, there was no change year-over-year, with a median home price of $400,000. In Baltimore County, the median price dropped 1.9 percent to $213,950; it fell 3.4 percent to $285,000 in Carroll County and 4.4 percent to $129,000 in Baltimore City.

Renee Mankoff, an agent for Weichert Realtors-New Colony based in Howard County, said several years of steadily increasing prices have placed more homeowners in a position to sell. At $400,000, the median home price in Howard County is just 6 percent below the August 2007 peak.

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"As prices continue to rise — even slowly — less and less people find themselves underwater, which is going to continue to bring more opportunities for sellers to sell," she said.

In other markets, foreclosures have acted as a drag on prices. In the Baltimore region, the number of foreclosures climbed to 393, up nearly 50 percent from a year ago, according to the RBI report. More than 150 of those occurred in Baltimore — about a quarter of the overall sales in the city.

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