Despite drop in existing-home sales in May, Realtors say market is improving


Sales of existing homes in most of the metropolitan area fell 9 percent in May, a move that the president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said represents a normal fluctuation in a housing market he contends is still improving.

The dip comes after the regional market had seen a 2 percent rise in sales during April, its first increase in more than a year, according to statistics that the Board of Realtors releases each month.

The board's statistics compare the market's performance each month to the same month a year earlier. The report covers Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Kent counties.

"I can't give you a reason why" the market slid back last month, said Brandon Gaines, president of the Board of Realtors. "I don't see it as a cause for alarm. I see the market as still on a positive plane. Though we're recovering, I think we'll see some moves up and some moves down."

The May sales dip "is consistent with what has been happening with consumer confidence," said Michael A. Conte, director of the Center of Business and Economic Studies at the university. "Nationally, consumer confidence took off after the end of the war and then settled back. . . . If we can view April as an over-optimistic aberration, I think we're still on the comeback trail."

Mr. Conte said that last month's decline is still much less steep than the 25 percent-to-30 percent year-to-year drops reported in late 1990 and early 1991. "If you ignore April, down 9 percent looks pretty good," he said.

Mr. Conte said that real estate brokers are reporting lots of customer interest but some hesitancy to move ahead because of the economy, which most economists think is in the later stages of a recession.

The Board of Realtors said that 1,566 homes were put under sales contracts in May, compared with 1,722 in May 1990. The biggest sales decline came in Carroll County, where sales dropped 26 percent.

Potential sellers behaved bullishly during the month, putting lots of homes on the market. The number of homes listed for sale was 3,567 last month, up 23 percent from May 1990.

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