Baltimore-area home sales up 14 percent in 2013

The Baltimore region had its best year for home sales since the start of the recession, as the local housing market continued its slow recovery in 2013.

About 27,750 units closed in 2013, up roughly 14 percent from 2012, according to data provided by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of the online listing service MRIS. In 2007, about 31,300 units sold, down from nearly 38,000 in 2006.

The median sale price also increased last year in Baltimore and its five surrounding counties, up an average of 4.3 percent over 2012, according to RBI.

John Kantorski, a real estate agent for Cummings and Co. Realtors, said 2013 had been his best year to date. With talk of rising interest rates, more people looking at homes are "getting off the fence," worried they will lose out on a good mortgage deal, he said.

"It's been a lot busier winter season than I've seen in years past," he said. "It's a combination of different factors ... but I have definitely seen a spike this year, with people getting out there and buying, I think, primarily because of the rates."

In December, about 2,160 units closed, up 11 percent from the same time in 2012 and up 6 percent since November. The boost from November's sales, which dropped 10 percent from October and were flat year over year, suggests that November was an anomaly, said Corey Hart, RBI senior product manager. Typically, there is little difference between November and December sales.

Hart blamed the government shutdown, pointing to trends in the Washington area, where sales in November dropped more than 21 percent compared with October, five times the 10-year average. They rose in December by about 19 percent.

"The October shutdown impacted the November sales totals because it just threw a wrench in the sales process," Hart said. "The fact that the D.C. metro area was more sharply impacted makes me think it was more than just the financing."

While the median sale price in the Baltimore metro region was flat last month compared with December 2012, numbers for the year showed gains.

In Baltimore, the median sale price rose 3.7 percent in 2013, to $123,300. It rose 5 percent, to $310,000, in Anne Arundel County; 5 percent, to $209,900, in Baltimore County; 6.1 percent, to $280,000, in Carroll County; 4.1 percent, to $385,000, in Howard County; and 1.3 percent, to $233,000, in Harford County, which was hit less hard during the housing crash.

The number of units on the market remains low, at 51.7 percent of the 2008 peak, despite three months of year-over-year increases in active listings and nine months of year-over-year increases in new listings, according to RBI. There were about 10,450 active listings in December 2013.

RBI's analysis predicted continued growth this year, but warned that "rising interest rates and inventory may flatten some of the growth." The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.34 percent for the week of Jan. 3 in 2013, according to a weekly survey by Freddie Mac. For the week of Jan. 9 this year, the average rate was 4.51 percent.

New mortgage rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that went into effect Friday have been incorporated into the practices of most lenders and are unlikely to affect the market seriously, said Bridget McGee, a lender with Cross Country Mortgage.

It is unclear what effect further gains will have on the market, analysts said. Historically, interest rates floated around 6 percent or higher for much of the 2000s and 1990s.

"When interest rates go up, the monthly payment on a mortgage goes up," McGee said. "It's going to impact maybe the size of the house they're buying. It may impact the areas they're buying in, but I don't know that it's going to halt people, or people are going to decide they're going to rent forever because the interest rates are now at 5 percent."

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