New-home sales up 16% in quarter Low rates are making houses more affordable

Spurred by attractive interest rates and improved consumer confidence, new-home sales in the Baltimore region were up 16 percent to 2,259 units during the third quarter -- the third consecutive quarterly increase, according to a housing market profile released yesterday by Legg Mason Realty Group Inc.

"Those low rates are making homes more affordable," said Harvey N. Singer, the group's senior vice president. "People have been wanting to buy houses."


The survey, which tracks new-home sales in subdivisions of 20 or more houses in Baltimore and five surrounding counties, showed the biggest growth in townhouse sales, which grew 30.8 percent during the quarter compared with the same period a year ago.

Detached-house sales were up 15.5 percent, and sales of multifamily units, such as condominiums, were down 9.5 percent, the survey said.


The results were in line with new-home sales in the Mid-Atlantic region, where sales increased by 13 percent during the quarter to more than 9,700 sales.

Coming after two quarterly increases, the recent gains point to a continuing recovery in the home building industry, Mr. Singer said. Dwight S. Griffith, president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, also took comfort from the increases but said a full recovery from the downturn in late 1990 is still not complete.

"There has not been a great surge of consumer confidence," he said. "It's just been inching up."

Robert J. Coursey, marketing director of Ryan Homes of McLean, Va., said interest rates -- which have been hovering just below 8 percent -- have been a driving force. "They are near a quarter-century low," he said.

But consumers also are feeling more confident as their investments are benefiting from the bullish stock market.

Ryan Homes and NV Homes, both owned by NVR Inc. of McLean, Va., had the largest combined market share in the Baltimore region with 804 sales, or 10.9 percent of the market, the survey said. That was only slightly higher than Ryland Homes, which has a 10.8 percent market share and sold 797 houses.