The Baltimore-area housing market emerged from an extended slump in September, as home sales posted a gain for the first time in 14 months. Throughout the region, 1,500 home sales were settled during the month, an 11 percent jump over September 1994, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said.
Sales rose almost everywhere in the region, with Baltimore and Harford counties leading the way with gains of 14 percent. Only Howard County saw a sales decline, of 3 percent.
"Is the market better? I would say slightly. I don't think there's anything outstanding or remarkable happening" -- especially when sales are compared with a less-than-stellar September last year, said Alice Burch, vice president and Baltimore regional ZTC manager of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "We're working hard and seeing a fair number of buyers out there and trying to get as many sales before the end of the year."
Industry experts noted that interest in home buying perked up during late spring and summer, as consumers regained confidence in jobs and resigned themselves to stable -- not lower -- mortgage rates. The activity has been reflected in the rising number of homes under contract each month since May. In September, the number of contract signings soared 29 percent, compared with September 1994, the board said.
"There has been a collection of buyers roaming through the market for some time now," said Adam D. Cockey Jr., president-elect of the Realtors board. "A portion of that group has made the decision to buy. There's not a great onslaught of buyers that will create this amazing demand, but we'll have good steady business."
"Any increase is a positive sign that there's more confidence on the part of the public to make acquisitions," said Theodore E. "Chip" Reichhart Jr., president of MNC Mortgage. "What we've really seen is a pickup in business overall since the spring."
Since then, the market has been driven by lower rates and prices, an abundance of homes on the market and increased availability of public and private settlement-assistance programs, housing specialists said.
"There are some very attractive buys, and the buyer feels more comfortable that what he's paying today for property is going to start some appreciation," Mr. Cockey said.
In September, the average sale in the Baltimore region dipped 3 percent to $129,199, the board reported.
Rates on 30-year, fixed-rate loans averaged 7.73 percent, falling toward the lower end of the national range of 7.64 percent to 8.2 percent, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH Associates of Butler, N.J., which tracks interest rates.
"Rates have been stable since May, and it's not likely the Federal Reserve will change interest-rate policy for the rest of the year," after raising short-term rates six times in 1994 to ward off inflation, Mr. Gumbinger said. "That stability is a good thing for the marketplace. It gets people out in the market and gives them a chance to lock in without fear of rising interest rates."