There are quite a few good signs that 2011 will be a better year for real estate, and the economy in general, than was 2010. If you’re one of the many potential buyers that are holding back, waiting for some positive signs that the worst is over, then I hope you’ll find what you’re looking for right here.
1. Improving employment picture. While the Baltimore and Maryland economies have fared better than the overall national picture, there have been some very encouraging signs nationally. For the last few weeks of December, initial jobless claims fell to levels not seen for several years, and the January employment report actually dropped the unemployment rate by a tenth of a point. Every prediction from economists has pointed to a slow, steady improvement through this year and these figures would confirm that is actually taking shape.
2. Consumer spending is increasing. The holiday shopping season was better than most retailers expected, and recent figures on the number of new automobiles being sold gives added strength to the fact that Americans are coming back to the marketplace and buying big ticket items. When consumer spending increases, businesses feel more comfortable adding inventory, placing orders, and restocking shelves, which has a positive ripple effect down the supply chain. Jobs result. Even sales of existing housing went up in December, and as an unscientific measure, my colleagues and I saw an increase in the number of people out looking, coming by open houses and setting up appointments with their agents.
3. Interest rates remain near historic lows. The cost of borrowing money is an important factor in determining how many people can afford to be in the housing market in the first place, and for the last few months mortgage interest rates have been cheap. Homeowners can refinance into 15 year mortgages for under 4%, while new 30 year mortgages have remained under 5%. As spring approaches, however, rates always tend to increase, so its not clear that these bargains will be available for much longer.
4. Housing prices have fallen dramatically. Along with the cheap cost of mortgage money, this increases the number of potential buyers who can qualify for a home purchase. With more buyers looking, and home sales beginning to pick up, its most likely that prices will stabilize and not fall much farther.
5. The Washington DC housing market has already stabilized and started to show price increases. Washington was one of only four metro areas in the country to show housing increasing in price in December. In the last decade, more and more homebuyers have been priced out of the DC market and have turned to Baltimore as a potential place to live. In fact, if the 2010 census shows that Baltimore has gained population (which many believe it will), that result can be attributed to the increase in Washington commuter traffic between the two cities.
So, if the DC market has improved and started to rise, can Baltimore be far behind?