Existing-home sales in Feb. show signs of recovery


Sales of existing homes in metropolitan Baltimore showed the first modest signs of a possible recovery in February but were still well below sales in the same month of 1990, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.

The number of homes on which contracts of sale were reached fell 19 percent to 1,465 homes, but that dip followed several months in which sales fell 25 percent to 30 percent. Brokers say lower interest rates and a boost in consumer confidence seem to be bringing home shoppers at least part of the way out of their deep funk.

"We're still not seeing people in droves, but we're seeing activity pick up," said Brandon Gaines, a broker at W. H. C. Wilson & Co. in Baltimore and president of the Board of Realtors. "It's still going to take a while, but you're looking at slow but positive growth."

Mr. Gaines said there are still some barriers in the way of a truly strong local market, notably the large inventory of homes available. The number of homes on the market was up 17 percent at last month's end, compared to the same time last year. And new listings, or homes put on the market in February, jumped 23 percent compared to February 1990.

The number of homes put on the market in February was almost twice the number of homes sold. However, it's not unusual to see a lot of new listings in February because it leads into the spring, the industry's peak season.

The average price of a home in the area served by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors actually fell by about $400, to $119,252. Average home prices in the area, another measure of the market's strength, have been essentially flat since mid-1989.

The statistics cover most of metropolitan Baltimore but do not include Anne Arundel County, which is served by its own board of realtors. The Anne Arundel board is due to release statistics on February home sales tomorrow.

Sally Broadbent Matthews, manager of the Towson-Lutherville office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, said that it will take several months to see if the market is beginning a recovery or if last month's numbers are a statistical fluke.

"If we get four months that are solid . . . I'd think that's some sort of trend," Ms. Matthews said. "You would start to get a real good feel after four months that this isn't a fluke."

But whether or not the market is yet entering a recovery, it's clear that some brokers' moods are beginning to turn around.

"Obviously, it's wonderful," Ms. Matthews said. "Buyers have come to the realization that it's a good market for them." She said that even higher-priced homes, which have been hit the hardest by the market's slump, are beginning to sell more easily than they have recently.

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