Carroll, Howard housing markets show price slump for upper-end models

C Both the Carroll County and Howard County real estat markets are showing price weakness for upper-end houses, but interest by first-time buyers in less expensive properties has begun to rebound since late January, realty executives there say.

"If there is a quick resolution to the war, there could be dramatic strengthening in the market," says Carl Starner, sales manager for the Long & Foster realty chain in Westminster.


Mortgage rates, now in the 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 percent range, are favorable for home uying, as are prices -- which in Carroll County have slumped somewhat in certain segments of the market, Mr. Starner says.

Still, as Mr. Starner points out, buying activity has been somewhat restrained in Carroll County due to consumer uncertainty about the economy and the duration of the war in the Persian Gulf.


Strongest buyer demand in Carroll is for single-family homes under $150,000 and town houses between $90,000 and $112,000 that attract first-time buyers, Mr. Starner says.

The areas around Eldersburg and Westminster, from the centrapart of Carroll County south, are the strongest sales areas because they're closer to urban areas than are the

northern sections of the county, he observes.

The rural, western parts of Howard County, where many of Howard's luxury homes have been built in the last several years, are the weakest segments of the county's real estate market, says Joseph Zick, sales manager at Century 21-H. T. Brown in Columbia.

"In the higher price ranges of $350,000 and up -- where there is oversupply -- the buyers are fewer and they're getting the biggest price discounts," Mr. Zick observes.

He contends that a temporary limitation on housing permits, begun in the county in 1989, is one explanation for an oversupply in upper-end housing on Howard County's west side.

While discounts have been deep for fancy Howard County houses, prices have held generally steady for properties under $350,000, Mr. Zick asserts.

The greatest demand is for homes at the lower end of the market, which have none of the sunken Jacuzzis or other amenities found in Howard's expensive homes, yet are within reach of a far larger segment of the buying population.