Regional home sales climb 9% Feb. boost attributed to low rates, more aid; Real estate


Low mortgage interest rates and financial assistance packages encouraged homebuying in February, boosting sales in the Baltimore area by 9 percent, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.

For the month, 852 homes sold, compared with 781 during the same period a year ago. The average sales price fell 4 percent to $118,729, the board said. "The market has remained steady throughout metropolitan Baltimore and is certain to continue in the next months," said Adam D. Cockey Jr., president of the Realtors' board. Besides interest rates -- which dipped under 7 percent in mid-February -- the market got a boost from the many credit counseling and financial assistance programs offered by nonprofit groups and government agencies, he said.

Agents and lenders said lower rates led to brisker business -- more phone calls, listings and showings of homes for the month. Meanwhile, the number of sales contract signings jumped 24 percent, to 1,532, a sign, some in the industry said, of pent-up demand created by bad weather earlier this year.

"People just decided rates are about as low as they've been in a long, long time and didn't want to wait anymore," said Roxane Zach, Lutherville branch manager for Prudential Preferred Properties. "It's a lot more movement than we've seen in a while. I hope it means people are feeling more confident about their jobs and the economy."

Sales in the region -- Baltimore and Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties -- had been down for much of 1995, ending the year off 6 percent with a total 16,350 homes sold.

Sales improved as interest rates declined. Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have risen about half a percentage point during the last two weeks, averaging 7.47 percent in the Baltimore region as of Friday. For February, sales rose everywhere in the region but in Carroll County, where they plummeted 30 percent.

Stan Dill, immediate past-president of the Carroll County Association of Realtors, said he believes several factors have caught up with county's housing market, including limits on building, increases in fees associated with building and a false perception of overcrowding in the midst of a debate over growth control.

"The perception is now having a negative effect on those considering moving to the county," said Mr. Dill, also the Hampstead sales manager for O'Conor Piper & Flynn Realtors.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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