Home sales in the Baltimore metropolitan area during the first three months of the year declined 29 percent from the same quarter of 1990, according to a survey by Rufus S. Lusk & Son Inc., but more recent figures gave at least a glimmer of hope that the slump may be bottoming out.
The first-quarter drop recorded by Lusk represents an acceleration of the 17 percent year-to-year drop in the fourth quarter of last year. The January-March declines hit heavily in all parts of the region, with drops ranging from 23 percent in Anne Arundel County to 38 percent in the severely depressed Howard County housing market. Even Harford County, which previously had been spared the worst of the downturn, posted a 30 percent loss.
More recent figures from the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors show that residential settlements in Baltimore and the surrounding counties through the end of May are down 14 percent -- to 6,240 from 7,261 during the same period in 1990. But the numbers for last month show a less pronounced decline of 2 percent, from 1,818 sales in May 1990 to 1,780 in May 1991.
The Realtors' figures differ from the Lusk data in that they tend to reflect only resales of existing homes through the Multiple Listing Service. The Lusk figures include new homes and owner sales as well.
Even though both surveys showed a downturn, Michael Yerman, president of the Maryland Association of Realtors, insisted that sales had perked up this year. "I know that business is better this year than in 1990," he said, adding that Realtors across the state had told him the same thing.
"I've seen a firmness in the market through the first half of the year, and see it getting stronger in the second half," Mr. Yerman said.