Local home sales last month were the highest in September since before the real estate market crashed, with gains in nearly every jurisdiction in the Baltimore metropolitan area, though prices were essentially flat, according to a monthly report published Friday.
Sales of single-family homes and condominiums led the way, both jumping in comparison to last year, while townhouse sales dipped, according to information provided by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems multiple listing service.
The region's median sales price dropped by 0.1 percent from last September to $244,700. The sales price was essentially unchanged for single-family homes and condominiums, but it fell nearly 8 percent for townhouses, the largest year-over-year drop in the category since October 2011.
The report lists 2,514 closed sales in Baltimore and five surrounding counties, the highest September figure since 2006 and a 4.4 percent increase from a year ago. Year-over-year sales of detached homes increased 7.2 percent and condominiums 6.4 percent, while townhouse sales dropped by just under a percentage point.
Ross Mackesey, president-elect of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said the figures show further evidence of steady improvement in the housing market.
"Absolutely, if you're having 2,514" sales, Mackesey said. "The last time we beat that number was 2006. That's the best September in eight years."
Corey Hart, RBI's senior product manager, said the flat prices reflect two factors: a "balanced market" and more foreclosure sales, which mean lower prices.
A "balanced market" refers to the number of homes on the market and how long it's expected to take to sell them all, Hart said. Below four to six months is considered a seller's market, above that is a buyer's market, and in between is "balanced." The figure now for the region is just over six months.
Foreclosure sales, which started picking up in the spring of 2013, have continued to rise, Hart said. Last month's total for the region was 386, a jump of 34 percent over September 2013. He said foreclosures have accounted for 15 percent of total sales this year, compared with 10 percent in 2013.
The increase in part reflects a backlog of foreclosures released early last year with the second of two settlements between major banks and the federal government of disputes over claims of foreclosure abuses, Mackesey said. He said foreclosure sales were particularly prevalent in Baltimore, where they jumped from 106 to 165, or 55 percent in the September year-over-year comparison.
That could explain why the number of homes sold jumped 19 percent in the city, while the median sales price fell 12 percent, to $115,500. The median sales price dropped 1.8 percent in Carroll County, to $275,000, and by 1.3 percent in Howard, to $370,000.
Harford County recorded the largest median increase in sales price, 7.4 percent, to $244,950, followed by Anne Arundel, 3.7 percent, to $310,750. The median price was unchanged in Baltimore County at $215,000.
Comparing September 2013 and 2014, Anne Arundel was the region's only county to record a sales drop, 5.2 percent.
Patricia M. Savani of Champion Realty Inc. in Annapolis said it was not clear why the number of sales fell, but she did not seem alarmed by the figure.
"It's not bad. It's just not what we would like it to be," said Savani, adding that sales have been better in the western part of the county, closer to Fort Meade, which has gained jobs during the military's base realignment and closure process. For the year overall, total sales in the county are up 4.4 percent.