Driven by low mortgage rates, home sales increased in the Baltimore area during September, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors reported yesterday.
The number of home deals that reached settlement last month rose to 1,539, a 4 percent increase compared to the same month last year. Sales still in the financing pipeline, known as "pending sales," picked up 24 percent, to 1,676.
And in another sign of good news for local home sellers, the average price of a home sold increased in September to #F $136,142, 8 percent higher than the same month last year.
Economists and housing specialists read the new statistics as a positive sign that the local market was continuing to improve, thanks largely to mortgage rates near a 25-year low. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. reported Thursday that the national average for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages declined to 6.87 percent, while the average for adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 4.28 percent.
These low rates have helped balance out the lingering concerns about job security, which are keeping some prospective buyers wary of purchasing a home.
"I would still characterize this as a buyers' market. But it's turning into a sellers' market because of the low mortgage rates," said Michael Conte, director of regional economic studies at the University of Baltimore.
The higher average price of homes sold in September reflected the increased buying power that comes with low mortgage rates, he said.
"Consumers are able to afford more house," said Alex Karavasilis, broker-owner of RE/MAX Advantage, a Columbia realty office.
"What we're seeing now is that larger and more expensive types of homes have started to move," Mr. Conte said.
James P. O'Conor, chairman of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, a Timonium-based realty company that leads the local market in sales, said the effect of brisker sales was that many people were able to sell their properties and move into more expensive homes.
Patrick Kane, a vice president for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty, a Towson-based chain, said that, despite relatively high unemployment rates in Maryland, consumer confidence appeared to be improving among potential homebuyers.
"We're starting to see a lot of positive signs in the market. There has been a shift in consumer confidence finally. It's been a very gradual thing, but it's there," Mr. Kane said.
The Board of Realtors report includes data from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties.