Sales of new and existing homes in metropolitan Baltimore continued a seven-month slide in January, but the number of contract signings rose for the first time since March, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.
Home sales dipped 24 percent, from 1,232 in January 1994 to 941 last month, the board said. The number of sales awaiting settlement climbed 13 percent, to 1,205 from 1,071 the previous January. And the average price of a home last month rose 7 percent to $138,380 from a year ago, the figures showed.
"People are back in the market to buy houses a little more than they have been," thanks to pent-up demand and stabilized interest rates, said Wesley Foster, president of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.
Resigned to another month of poor sales in the wake of rising mortgage rates and slow job growth, some in the industry reacted with surprise to the increase in pending sales. That should lead to improved settled sales in the next couple of months.
"It's a phenomenon to some extent," said Adam D. Cockey, president-elect of the Realtors board. "The last quarter of the year was certainly a slower period."
But sales remained strong in some pockets of the region that includes Baltimore city and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, as buyers anticipated another increase in short-term rates by the Federal Reserve system, Mr. Cockey said.
The average rate on a 30-year, fixed mortgage had climbed above 9 percent after bottoming out at 6.83 percent in October 1993. But rates have dipped slightly, hovering around 9 percent. And Realtors said loans have been available at even lower rates.