OCEAN CITY, MD. -- Beach real estate sales here and in other East Coast resorts appear to be recovering from the slump caused by confusion over changes in federal tax law, real estate agents and market analysts say.

Although new construction of beach houses and condominiums is down from the record highs of 1984, the overall real estate sales volume for Ocean City last year totaled $264 million, the resort's third-best year. And real estate agents say that sales this year, led by a strong resale market, are expected to be even better.

"The reasons for the continuing popularity of real estate here are the same as they've always been: location, location, location," said Hal Glick of Moore, Warfield & Glick Inc. Realtors in Ocean City.

Although a few of the smaller real estate companies say 1987 has been slow for them, the large companies all see this year as the start of a new surge in buying.

"At this time in 1986, people were holding off doing business until they understood the new tax laws," said Dennis Roarty, sales manager for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn. "Business is particularly good now in the medium-price range, $80,000 to $105,000. The multiple-unit buyer is rare now because of the tax laws. He has been replaced, however, by the second-home buyer."

Farther south, in the Tidewater, Va., area and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, real estate sales also appear healthier this year than last.

"We're up," said Carol Hunsecker, associate broker for Nags Head Realty in North Carolina. "People were a little intimidated last year because of the tax change, and it was down. But the new legislation is good and things have picked up again. I expect we'll continue to grow for a while."

Despite Ocean City's proximity to several major cities, prices on the Delmarva coast are still considerably lower than in other East Coast areas such as coastal New Jersey and Florida.

And most real estate agents say they believe that once Ocean City's $40 million beach replenishment plan is implemented next year, property values will soar. The plan is intended to widen the resort's disappearing beach to a uniform 165 feet. "We're about a year away, I think, from another price boom," Glick said.

In Ocean City this summer, condominiums are priced from $35,000 to $300,000. A new, two-bedroom condominium unit at the Plaza, an oceanfront building at 98th Street, goes for $156,900.

In Bethany Beach, Del., a comparable unit would sell for about $190,000, according to Skip Valliant, owner of Seacoast Realty there.

"People are buying in both places," said Valliant, who previously owned a real estate company in Ocean City. "The markets are completely different, though. People in Ocean City like the atmosphere, {while} people here in Bethany are paying to get away from the crowds."

Former vice president Spiro Agnew and chicken king Frank Perdue own condos in Ocean City, which they visit in summer months. In 1984, former Maryland governor Harry Hughes was lambasted by the late Ocean City mayor Harry Kelley when Hughes chose to buy a beach house in quieter Bethany Beach rather than Ocean City.

Real estate along the Delaware coast consists primarily of single-family homes and town houses. An undeveloped 70-foot by 200-foot lot in Bethany Beach goes for about $450,000. A single-family oceanfront house can cost up to $1 million, real estate agents said. There are few high-rise condominium buildings in the area.

"Development here has been marked by conscientious growth, not the rampant growth of north Ocean City," said Barbara Lamaire, a member of the Sussex County, Del., Board of Realtors.

In the Rehoboth Beach area, which has the highest concentration of development in coastal Delaware, the market may make a slight turnaround later this year when a four-year city septic moratorium is lifted. Although there has been development in the outlying areas, real estate in Rehoboth Beach has been almost exclusively resales since 1983, agents said.

Ocean City remains real estate's Gold Coast however, despite some concern about the large number of units currently on the market.

Although Ocean City real estate sales and building permit activity declined in 1986 for the second year in a row, market analysts say the decline is deceptive, since 1984 was a record year, with a 48 percent increase in sales volume over 1983.

"On its own, 1986 was a very strong year," said Robert Becker, of Lipman, Frizzell & Mitchell, a Baltimore real estate consulting firm that does an annual study of Ocean City's real estate market. The 1986 report was released this week. "When you compare it with 1984 though, which was an exceptional year, it doesn't look so good. . . . I think things are beginning to stabilize in Ocean City."

According to city records, there were 142 new building permits in 1986, compared with 156 in 1985 and 235 in 1984. The value of those permits dropped from $102.4 million in 1984 to $56.6 million in 1985 and to $36.2 million last year. A total of 760 new units were constructed last year, compared with 1,349 in 1985 and 2,065 the year before.

Some of the slowdown can be attributed to diminishing space for new construction, and some to concern over the tax law, the analysts said. But while new unit sales are down, resales seem way up, real estate agents said.

"We've always specialized in resales, and resales are what's in this year," said Al Crimmins, of Crimmins Real Estate in Ocean City.

Added Cathy Panco of Moore, Warfield & Glick, "This is the year for resales. It will probably be that way for a while, too. There are more properties to choose from and they have established rental histories."

Although there seems to be no such thing as a pessimistic real estate agent on the Delmarva coast, there are some genuine reasons to be optimistic about the next few years, most notably the beach replenishment plan.

Once that plan is finished, said Terry Hough of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, "Ocean City will be the finest beach on the East Coast. And the prices are going to reflect that. Right now, the best buys on the coast are still in Ocean City."