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Home prices in area up 16%


Favorable mortgage interest rates helped propel the median sales price of existing homes in the Baltimore metropolitan area up more than 16 percent last year, according to new data by a national Realtor group.

The median price of an existing single-family home in the Baltimore area was $208,900 last year - up from $179,600 in 2002, the National Association of Realtors reported last week.

Baltimore's median sales price outpaced the nation, which posted a 7.5 percent growth rate to $169,900 last year. Baltimore recorded the largest price increase in the past 20 years and bested other areas in the region.

Philadelphia jumped 15 percent to $168,000; Washington increased 14.4 percent to $286,200; Wilmington, Del., rose 10.7 percent to $166,200; and Richmond, Va., increased 9 percent to $155,100.

Of the 127 areas surveyed by the Realtors, only Salt Lake City/Ogden, Utah, and Fort Wayne, Ind., reported price declines over the year. Median prices in Salt Lake City/Ogden fell 0.54 percent to $148,000, while Fort Wayne dipped 1.79 percent to $93,200.

The median price means that half of the houses sold for more and half for less.

In a separate report, the Realtors' group said sales of existing homes throughout Maryland rose nearly 8 percent last year to 134,600 single-family homes, condominiums and cooperatives. Total existing-home sales in the nation rose 9.6 percent to almost 7 million housing units last year. Home sales have reached records in each of the past three years both locally and nationally.

Real estate experts attribute the gains to low mortgage interest rates and fewer homes for sale compared with previous years. Since the Baltimore area is experiencing an upswing in population, demand for housing should remain strong this year and keep pushing prices higher, said Ingo Winzer, president of the Local Market Monitor, a Massachusetts-based company that tracks housing values.

"I'd be surprised if it were another 16 percent this year, but another 10 percent wouldn't surprise me at all," Winzer said.

Gilbert D. Marsiglia, president of the Maryland Association of Realtors, said low interest rates also have thrust more people into the homebuying market. The 30-year interest rate averaged 5.8 percent last year. It is expected to rise to 6.1 percent this year, the Mortgage Bankers Association says.

Azam Khan, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said higher prices have caused conflicting feelings among homebuyers.

"It works both ways," Khan said. "They're disappointed because the prices are high, but they are excited because they got a good, solid investment."

Sales figures detailing average home prices for Baltimore and its five surrounding counties are scheduled to be released this week by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the local listing service used by area agents and brokers.

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