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Realtors anticipating a surge in settlements

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Although sales of existing homes in the Baltimore metropolitan area for August remained virtually unchanged from August 1999, homebuyers may be setting the stage for a final kick to the rest of the year.

With just one less property settling last month than in August 1999 (3,263 vs. 3,264), the number of pending contracts - an indication of future settlements - rose 21.56 percent.

According to statistics released yesterday by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., 3,100 contracts were signed last month compared with 2,550 in August 1999.

Realtors are pointing to higher consumer confidence and lower mortgage rates in the past several weeks as the reasons why more buyers have been moving into the market.

"It's been pretty steady and fairly strong, and I think the interest rates have helped and all the signs of the economy are still looking very good, very strong," said Patrick J. Kane, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. "Knock on wood, and I hope it continues."

Since the middle of May when 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages hovered at 9 percent, interest rates have gradually edged below 8 percent.

Last week, the interest rate for a 30-year mortgage in the Baltimore metropolitan area was 7.97 percent.

"I would think that the consumer feels pretty confident that everything is being done in the right order over in Washington to steer this economy into the right direction," said John Evans, president of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, who added that his company's August sales were up 11 percent over August 1999.

Baltimore continued to lure buyers as August settled sales were up 8.99 percent over the year-earlier period and pending sales jumped 47.87 percent.

"It was my best August ever," said William Cassidy, manager of the Fells Point and Federal Hill offices of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. Cassidy said contracts written in August totaled 20 percent more than a year earlier, a performance that he attributed to "all the positives" being tossed around the harbor neighborhoods.

Harford County sales rose 18.77 percent, and those in Carroll County were up 5.53 percent. Sales in the other jurisdictions were down, however. Anne Arundel dropped 2.24 percent; Baltimore County was down 6.37 percent; Howard County was off 8.65 percent.

And, as has been the case throughout the year, average sales prices continued to climb. The average sales price for a home in the area climbed 2.43 percent to $164,464, compared with $160,564 in August 1999.

For a single-family detached home, the average sales price rose by 7.29 percent, from $210,450 to $225,768. Townhouse prices had a more modest gain of 0.9 percent, with the average sales price rising just over $1,000 to $107,755.

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