Baltimore-area home sales continued strong pace in February

Maryland home sales stay strong in February.

Home sales in the Baltimore area continued to surge in February, although that partly reflected a big jump in foreclosed property sales compared with a year ago.

Sales in the city and five surrounding counties last month jumped 21 percent from the year before to 1,861— the most since 2007, before the housing market collapse — with the median sales price down slightly, according to a monthly market report released Tuesday by an affiliate of the region's multiple listing service.

Issued by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the report attributed both the jump in sales and the decrease in prices largely to the same factor: sales of foreclosed properties, particularly in Baltimore City.

One in four of February's sales — 443 total — involved a lender-owned foreclosed property. That's an 85 percent increase from February 2014, and it approaches levels not seen since 2011. In the city, one in three sales — 155 total — was foreclosure-related.

The report did note, however, that the number of short sales, in which a home is sold for less than is owed on it, continued to fall, hitting double digits for the first time in nearly six years.

Andrew Strauch, a vice president for innovation and marketing with the multiple listing service, said he saw nothing particularly dramatic in the report, and that's a good thing.

"I think the Baltimore market is in a nice, stable condition," said Strauch, adding that the inventory of four to five months is about right for a "balanced" market, tipped decidedly neither in favor of buyers or sellers.

The number of active listings was 11,198 last month, down 2.9 percent from January, but up 10.8 percent from February 2014. The median days on the market rose to 67 days from 61 days a year earlier.

Ross Mackesey, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, who last month forecast a strong spring for home sales, said the February report sustains his optimism.

"It continues to look good," said Mackesey, one of the managers of a Long & Foster agency in Baltimore County, pointing to February's jump in sales. "Any time we can sell 324 more homes in a month we think that's good."

With closed sales rising 21 percent and new contracts up nearly 25 percent, "these are all pretty good numbers," he said.

February's median sales price of $225,000 was down about $2,000 from a year before, or 1 percent. But if distressed properties — such as foreclosures and short sales — were not included, the median February sales price rose $5,000 year-over-year to $260,000. Strauch called that nearly 2 percent gain a "healthy rate of increase."

Median prices in the city were particularly affected by distressed property sales, dropping 20.9 percent to $82,250 in February from $104,000 from a year earlier. In the city, the median sales price for foreclosed properties was $44,000, as compared with $160,000 for non-distressed properties.

Changes in median sales prices ranged in the suburbs. Harford County saw the highest year-over-year jump of 4.2 percent, to $226,000 from $216,850, while Carroll saw the largest drop of 4.7 percent, to $264,000 from $277,000.

Prices remained highest in Howard County, where the median rose 3 percent to $350,000 last month from $339,000 a year earlier.

Baltimore median home sales prices

February 2015change from February 2014

Baltimore metro area$225,000-1%

Howard County$350,000+3%

Anne Arundel County$287,800-3.5%

Carroll County$264,000-4.7%

Harford County$226,000+4.2%

Baltimore County$199,500+2.3%

Baltimore City$82,250-20.9%

Source: RealEstate Business Intelligence

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