Home sales and prices in the Baltimore area continued to climb in May, as buyers vied for properties in a market with historically low inventory.

Just under 4,000 home sales closed in May, up 6.7 percent from the same month last year, according to a new report by ShowingTime. The median sale price rose 4.4 percent last month to $273,625, according to the monthly report, which is based on listing activity from MRIS, a division of the multiple listing service Bright MLS.

The steady rise in home sales and median sale prices indicate a healthy housing market and could ultimately loosen the area's tight inventory, said Jonathan Hill, a spokesman for MRIS.

"As the prices go up, more sellers will jump off the fence about whether they should put their house on the market," Hill said. "That adds to inventory and that's more fuel for the engine."

He suggested some homeowners may have delayed listing their properties because they want to sell in order to upgrade to a larger home nearby, but, because of low inventory, haven't found anything suitable.

Rising prices could bolster seller confidence, Hill said.

Nearly 6,000 homes were listed for sale in May, a 3.3 percent increase over the same month last year, according to the report. In the city of Baltimore, there were 1,400 new listings, up 8.4 percent from May of last year.

Despite the growth in new listings, May marked the 21st consecutive month of declining year-over-year inventory. Active listings were down 14 percent compared to May of last year, according to the report.

Available homes spent less time on the market and sold closer to list price, as buyers scooped up new listings that ticked off enough boxes on their wish lists.

Homes spent a median of just 19 days on the market, down from 26 this time last year, and the lowest monthly level in a decade. Properties sold for 96.8 percent of the list price, on average, compared to 95.5 percent of the list price in May of last year.

Sellers, increasingly in tune with what buyers are looking for, are taking extra steps to make their homes appealing and sell fast, said Chris Raborn, an associate broker with Keller Williams Excellence in Lutherville-Timonium.

Buyers have gotten picky, turning down homes that need minor cosmetic upgrades and visiting homes that look good online, she said.

In response, agents have started working with sellers to stage their homes, make small updates and post high quality photos in online listings, Raborn said.

"Sellers are upping their game, too," she said. "They're starting to know they're either going to sell right away or it's going to be a long time."

Annie Milli, marketing director of Live Baltimore, said she was especially pleased with Baltimore's home sales growth, which was second only to Howard County.

Milli will take over as executive director of the nonprofit, which promotes city living and homebuying incentives, on June 16.

About 880 homes sold in Baltimore in May, up 10 percent from the same month last year. Home sales in Howard County rose 10.6 percent.

New pending sales also were up, by 3.7 percent, compared to last year.

The median sale price rose in every county except for Carroll County, where the median price slipped 0.2 percent to $313,500.

The median sale price in Baltimore was $156,000, up by about $1,000 from May of last year.

Anne Arundel County saw the greatest increase in year-over-year median sale price -- $342,000, up 6.8 percent.

"Spring ignites the home sales market and sets the pace for the remainder of the year," Milli said. "We're really excited to see these types of numbers heading into the rest of the homebuying season."

Tribune Content Agency