Howard County's residential real estate market continued to be depressed, according to the latest quarterly report of local economic indicators -- with the average selling price of single-family homes having dropped more than $6,000 over a recent 12-month period.
In May, that price was $193,278 -- $6,307 less than in May 1994, says the report issued by Howard County government and the Economic Forum, a local business and civic lobbying group.
Home sales were off 56 percent in May from May a year ago and down 15 percent for the 12 months ending May 31, according to the report. Data for more recent months were not in the report.
"Educated buyers seeking bargains are exhibiting a willingness to shop the market for the best value," the report says. As a result, sellers can expect to receive less money and have their homes on the market for longer periods of time, the report indicates.
But at summer's end -- a time period not covered in the report -- there was marked improvement in the Howard housing market, said Al Cooke, president of the Howard County Association of Realtors. He noted that home sales in August were 28 percent higher than in July.
Although the Howard market has fallen overall for the year, "not everyone is selling for less," he said. Real estate agents are seeing a lot of first-time homebuyers, but not as many buyers looking to "move up" as in the past, Mr. Cooke said.
The report -- which includes a variety of economic data covering this calendar year and the fiscal year used by the county government, which ended June 30 -- shows a mixed picture in residential construction in the 12 months ending with June.
The number of construction permits issued for single-family detached homes dropped to 1,109 for that period from 1,333 in the previous fiscal year.
But apartment and townhouse construction permits were up for the year, the report found. It reported 263 permits for apartments in the most recent fiscal year, up from 133 the year before, and 533 permits for townhouses, up from 460 the previous year.
The amount of commercial square footage for which permits were issued nearly doubled, to 1.1 million square feet, over the fiscal year, though the number of permits issued remained constant.
Despite the increase in commercial footage, there was little construction based on the expectation that tenants will fill the space, the report says. That's because "lenders are viewed as being in a conservative mode, asking for terms that are difficult."
In the area of banking, the report says, mergers and acquisitions dominate the industry and that customers will begin to receive new and additional services.
It also reports that residential employment has grown slightly over the past fiscal year, with 3,121 more residents having jobs this June than a year earlier.
Also, according to the most recent figures available, the average weekly wage fell $3 a week, to $603 in December 1994 compared with December 1993, the report indicates. The 1994 yearly average of $587 was $10 more a week than in 1993.
Other report findings:
* Sales tax revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30 were well above the June 30, 1994, totals, with apparels up 21 percent, furniture and appliances up 17.4 percent and general merchandise up 23 percent.
* Auto sales were down because leasing is the preferred choice of commercial customers, but the report does not say by how much they are down.
* County farmers fell behind schedule with their hay and barley harvests because of spring rains, and fruit and vegetable growers suffered delays because of hail damage. Cattle and hog prices remained depressed, but sales of ornamental plants and landscaping materials were strong.
* Road construction subcontractors suffered from a dearth of smaller projects at the state and county levels.