Home sales in metropolitan Baltimore fell for the 13th straight month, dipping 3 percent in July, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.
Sales of new and existing homes fell to 1,673, compared with 1,718 homes sold in the same period last year, the board said.
Nonetheless, the figures came as encouraging news to industry officials because they indicate the housing market may have seen the last of the sharp declines of the past year.
The market should gain momentum in the coming months, based on a 36 percent jump in the number of contract signings in the region compared with last July, the board said. "With the continuing low interest rates, the fall market has the capability of becoming strong," said Adam D. Cockey Jr., president-elect of the board.
Interest rates on 30-year, fixed mortgages have declined after peaking in December at over 9 percent. Last week, rates on 30-year loans averaged 8 percent in the Baltimore area, according to HSH Associates of Butler, N.J.
Mr. Cockey noted that the biggest share of sales came in the low- to mid-price range, primarily homes costing less than $150,000. The average settled price of a home fell 3 percent, from $134,332 in July 1994 to $130,551 last month, the board said.
The re-sale housing market has been hurt by home values, which have either appreciated slowly or not at all, prompting more homeowners to put off moving to a bigger house, brokers said. At the same time, many buyers are choosing from the many new homes they can find at competitive prices.
That has been the case in Carroll County, where many homes in low- to mid-price ranges are being built in Eldersburg, Hampstead and Westminster, said Jim Erb, a broker at J. F. Erb Real Estate Inc.
"There is tremendous inventory of homes in all price ranges, compared to what it was years ago."
Sales in Carroll County plummeted 24 percent in July, while sales in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties dipped slightly or remained flat, the Realtors said.
Contrasting with the Board of Realtors' figures -- which primarily reflect existing-home sales -- figures that track new-home sales showed increases in the region.