Baltimore-area home sales and prices dropped slightly in September compared with the same time last year, as buyers waited to find their ideal home in an increasingly tight market.
A total of 3,127 homes sold in September for a median price of $253,000, or $670 less than this time last year, according to a ShowingTime report released Tuesday. The number of home sales was down 2.4 percent from last September.
Active listings fell 11.4 percent, making September the 25th consecutive month of declining year-over-year active listings, according to the monthly report, based on listing activity from MRIS, a division of the multiple listing service Bright MLS.
New contracts were also down from the same month last year.
Despite the month's year-over-year decreases, "we're still in a very healthy real estate market," said Christy Bishop, an associate broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty in Severna Park and Annapolis.
She called the growth pattern now "more sustainable" with "normal appreciation," compared with the rapid price hikes that came during the housing boom before the Great Recession.
Among the region's municipalities, Baltimore City bucked the month's trends.
A total of 719 homes sold in the city in September, a 9.4 percent increase over September of last year and the area's largest year-over-year increase.
New listings in Baltimore also outpaced the surrounding counties. The city reported 1,239 new listings, up 7.2 percent from the same time last year.
And the city was second only to Howard County in price appreciation, with a September median sales price of $127,000, up 3.3 percent from a year earlier.
Andrew Strauch, vice president of Bright MLS, attributed the uptick in Baltimore to rising confidence in the economy, a stable job market and rebounding home values
"There's this question of, 'Hey, I'm in a starter house, when do I start looking to make that change?'" Strauch said. "I think some folks are starting to make that change."
As first-time home buyers in Baltimore begin to eye their next home, some will turn to the counties, which also could boost activity there, Strauch said.
The limited supply means homes are selling fast, spending an average of just 29 days on market, a week less than this time last year. And they're selling for just under 95 percent of their asking price.
Strauch said that means quality properties are being scooped up quickly, but buyers aren't getting into bidding wars over them.
"Although inventory is tight, people are not willing to bid up houses," he said. "People are being more patient and waiting until they find the home they want at a price that makes sense for them."
And some renters might be delaying a move to home ownership because they don't realize that relatively low interest rates could make it cheaper to purchase than to rent, Bishop said.
"The numbers work, and home appreciation is for most people the greatest step to build net worth," she said.
Buyers have been reluctant to compete for properties through bidding wars, Bishop said. But there have been exceptions, such as the recent sale of a home in Severna Park that had been rehabbed and brought in six offers, she said.
"When you have a property that shows well and is priced right, we're seeing it can be bid up," Bishop said.
Howard and Carroll counties saw modest increases in September home sales, while year-over-year sales were down in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
The number of September sales declined 11.6 percent from the same month last year in Harford County, the greatest decline in the region.
Prices also slipped the most last month in Harford County, dropping 3.9 percent to a median of $230,500. The median price also dipped 1.9 percent to $310,000 in Anne Arundel County.
Sales prices appreciated most last month in Howard County, climbing 5.2 percent to a median of $404,900. The median rose 1.4 percent to $231,000 in Baltimore County and 0.7 percent to $296,000 in Carroll County.
Baltimore Sun reporter Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.