Home sales in the Baltimore area dropped for the eighth straight month during February despite an easing in interest rates, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors reported yesterday.

Sales of new and existing homes in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Harford counties plunged 24 percent, to 784, compared with 1,026 homes sold in February 1994, the board said. The sales drop mirrored January's 24 percent decline.

Although the number of pending sales also dipped, declining 5 percent in February, from 1,426 to 1,353, board officials held out that an upturn in the city and Carroll County may signal a recovery.

"With the increased number of pending units in Baltimore City [of 20 percent] and an increase in Carroll County of 9 percent, we anticipate an overall improvement as new listings increase and interest rates settle," said David Baird, the board's president.

Pending sales, measured by contract signings, has increased only once since March, rising 13 percent in January.

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 in recent weeks, and last week, the average 30-year rate in the Baltimore region was down to 8.65 percent.

"What appears to be happening is the public is beginning to accept it is a fact of life that mortgage rates are going to be in the 9.5 percent range, and that number is not a terrible, terrible number," said James P. O'Conor, chairman of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn Realtors.

"I think the market is beginning to come around. We've had a good amount of phone calls and activity in open houses."

Others in the industry believe job instability has hurt the market far more than the rise in rates over the past year.

"Thousands of jobs [are lost] every time you pick up the paper," said Jim Swisher, sales manager for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Parkville.

The average price of a home in February fell 5 percent, to $122,278, the board said.

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