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Md. real estate shows symptoms of COVID-19 slowdown

The housing market in Maryland’s two major metro markets started strong before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted lockdown orders from elected officials.

Both Baltimore and Washington metro areas, according to MarketStats data by ShowingTime, posted their highest median March sales prices in a decade.

By late in the month, however, pending sales and new listings declined precipitously.

“The metro area hit a March 10-year high for median home sale price, but new listings grew at lower levels than what we typically see in March,” said Chris Finnegan, chief marketing and communications officer at Bright MLS said.

The March housing statistics are the first data to show how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced local residential real estate sales.

Median home price in the eight counties and city that comprise Maryland’s major metro jurisdictions nearly reached $330,000 last month, with a median year-over-year price increase of 8.4%. At the same time the median increase in the number of closed sales in those jurisdictions exceeded 16%.

Pending sales, however, decreased from February in each of the jurisdictions at a time when sales should be set to surge into the spring selling period. Across the metro areas the year-over-year number of pending sales decreased a median of 3.25%.

New listings also generally dropped in March compared to the month before. While Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties experienced slight increases in the number of new listings from last year, the median number of new listings reflects a 2.5% decline in that category.

On March 3 Maryland had three confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. That number grew to 423 roughly four weeks later. As of Monday the state’s health department had confirmed nearly 9,000 cases and 262 deaths.

In an attempt to stop the pandemic’s spread Gov. Larry Hogan in March issued an order for residents to stay at home extending to April 24. As a result, the economy has nearly ground to a halt as businesses, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sectors, suffered.

During the past three weeks more than 235,000 Maryland residents made first-time unemployment claims with the state,  historic highs totaling more than any six-month period.

The are growing concerns about whether potential homebuyers will opt out of buying new homes and if the plight of existing homeowners will create a new wave of foreclosures similar to what hammered the nation following 2008’s Great Recession.  For now, there are moratoriums on foreclosures ordered by federal and state authorities.

Local governments, already projecting significant revenue shortfalls due to loss of income tax, are closely watching the housing market. Property taxes provide local governments their largest income stream.

If the coronavirus outbreak’s economic damage spreads out to residential real estate, local governments face even greater challenges in paying their bills. Some jurisdictions, such Baltimore, already are considering furloughs and layoffs for police and firefighters.

“In the short term that doesn’t seem to be a concern … (but) at some point you have to think this impacts future reassessments and that can have a major impact on us,” Carroll County Director of Management and Budget Ted Zaleski said last week.

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