The median sale price for single-family houses and townhouses in Howard County rose 20.8 percent last year, driven in part by growing demand at a time of tight supply.
The median sale price rose to $311,000 in 2004 from $257,500 the previous year, according to a Washington Post analysis based on government records.
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Howard County: Details on Howard County's median home prices and total homes sold.
For many homebuyers, the main appeal of Howard County is its location midway between Washington and Baltimore. Its well-respected school districts are another draw. Some of the priciest homes tend to be in areas with highly ranked schools, such as Zip code 21029, which includes the River Hill district in Clarksville. The median price there was $600,000 last year, up 17.4 percent from $511,000 the previous year.
Another factor in rising prices is the county's housing crunch, real estate agents said. That crunch is linked in part to growth control measures in place since the early 1990s that limit the number of housing units built in the county each year, said Jeff Bronow, research chief at the county's Planning and Zoning Department.
In 1990, the limit was about 2,500 units annually for sale or rent. Starting in 2003, the limit dropped to 1,500, Bronow said.
"We want to spread out development over time so that the county has time to build new roads, new schools and other public services," Bronow said. "There really isn't a lot of land available and we need to ration what we have."
The lack of available land means homebuyers are left searching mostly for resales, said Creig Northrop of Long & Foster in Clarksville. But current homeowners are reluctant to sell because they too are having trouble finding homes, Northrop said.
In Columbia, the planned community where nearly 40 percent of the county's population resides, there's only one major parcel of land left to develop. Prices are up more than 20 percent in each of Columbia's three Zip codes -- 21044, 21045 and 21046.
About the only area in the county that had a lot of new home construction is Dayton, between Clarksville and Glenelg in the western part of the county, Northrop said. The Washington Post analysis shows that the median sales price in Dayton's Zip code 21036 was up 38.6 percent last year to $560,000 from $404,000.