Metro area home sales up 35% in April Monthly gain is called strongest in at least 3 years; Contract signings leap 40%; Figures indicate growing confidence in economic picture

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Home sales in the Baltimore region posted the strongest monthly gain in at least three years in April, jumping 35 percent, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said yesterday.

Signaling a more robust housing market in coming months, the number of contracts signed and awaiting settlement soared as well, increasing 40 percent to 2,198.

Contract signings had been on the rise in February and March. After lagging behind for the first nine months of last year, sales had improved this year but never increased by more than 15 percent.

But last month, amid growing confidence in the economy, sales of previously owned and new homes soared to 1,514 from 1,123 during the same period a year ago, the board said.

The Realtors' board also reported a slight rise in the average sale price of a home, which increased 4 percent to $126,660.

"I do think this year things seem to be moving a little better" -- especially with the pent-up demand created by harsh weather early in the year, said Carole Stencil, a real estate agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn Realtors in Westminster.

With increases in both settled sales and contract signings everywhere in the region -- Baltimore and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties -- the housing market should remain strong for the summer, said Adam Cockey, president of the board of Realtors.

Settled sales rose from 23 percent in the city to as much as 61 percent in Carroll County -- though that area had fewer sales than anywhere else in the region.

The increases came in spite of rising mortgage rates, which averaged 8.19 percent for 30-year, fixed-rate loans as of Friday in the Baltimore region.

With rates still viewed as affordable and incentive programs helping first-time home buyers with down payments and closing costs, sales activity has remained brisk, agents said.

"For the first time in a long time, it's definitely moving away from a buyer's market. It's not a seller's market yet, but it has moved more that way," said David McIlvaine, a real estate agent with Re/Max Advantage in Columbia. "There has been a sense of urgency on the part of buyers to go ahead."

Several times, he has arranged to show a buyer three or four listings, only to find, within days, that the homes already had more than one offer.

Three contracts already have been offered on a home he listed for sale Friday, he said.

Pub Date: 5/08/96

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