Home sales rise 14% in Baltimore area Comparable '94 period was weak, however


Home sales in the Baltimore region remained on an upswing in October, jumping 14 percent over year-ago figures, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.

The number of new and existing home sales in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties climbed to 1,607 from 1,406 in the corresponding period last year, the board reported.

The housing market had emerged from a 14-month slump in September, when sales rose 11 percent. For several months, a rising number of homes have gone under contract, signaling that stronger settled sales would follow. In October, contract signings soared 40 percent.

"The statistics are displaying definite strengths," said Adam D. Cockey Jr., president of the Realtors board. "This change is positive and sure to flourish later in the year."

Sales were up everywhere in the region except in Howard and Carroll counties, where they dropped by 6 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Sales climbed 26 percent in Baltimore County and 22 percent in the city.

"While these numbers aren't bad, they're not terrific," said Michael Funk, assistant director of the University of Baltimore's Regional Economic Studies Program. He warned that October 1995 increases must be measured against a weak housing market during the second half of 1994. In fact, last month's area home sales were still slightly below the 1,628 reported for October 1993.

"The residential real estate market is performing fairly well, Mr. Funk said. "It's a decent market, but it's not an overwhelmingly outstanding market."

Even mortgage interest rates at nearly 25-year lows haven't been enough to boost sales further, he said.

As of Friday, rates on 30-year fixed mortgages averaged 7.7 percent in the Baltimore area, according to HSH Associates of Butler, N.J., which tracks regional mortgage rates.

Rates have remained fairly stable for about six months, moving within a range of 0.5 percent since May, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.

"The average movement has been very, very slow from one week to the next," and should continue that way through the end of the year, Mr. Gumbinger said.

"Rates are making homes more affordable, and for people doing well, it's a good time," Mr. Funk said. "But we haven't had a particularly robust economy this year. We haven't seen income growth and wage growth. That's holding back the market a little bit."

The average sales price of a home dipped 3 percent, to $127,536, in October.

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