Yearend data are in for many housing industry indicators, and baseball metaphors are flying despite the midwinter cold and snow.

Home sales in 1995, were, one statistician said, "like having a .280 hitter on your baseball team"- not horrible, not great.

But David Lereah, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, said 1995's housing performance was "more like having Ken Griffey Jr. on your team and having him hit .280. You'd expect him to bat .330 and hit 40 home runs."

In other words, 1995 shaped up to be, well, slightly disappointing on many fronts.

Low interest rates did not impel home sales as mortgage lenders and home builders had hoped, because consumer confidence stayed low for much of the year and slipped into the basement by yearend.

Sales of existing homes slipped 3.4% from the 1994 level, to 3.812 million units, according to figures from the National Association of Realtors.

New-home sales fell about 2% for the year, according to the most complete figures available.

"Despite the fact that the interest rate is now about two points lower than it was a year ago, we have roughly the same level of sales," said Steve Berman, survey statistician at the Department of Commerce's Census Bureau.

Moreover, the housing inventory - homes on the market that remain unsold - is high. The most current data available, for November (government shutdowns slowed the release of later numbers), show the total of unsold new homes was at an historic high, which may trigger problems for lenders in 1996.

A large inventory, one observer noted, means builders might cut prices, so buyers wouldn't need to borrow as much money.

But Mr. Lereah said builders might sweeten deals in other ways, without reducing the demand for financing.

A large inventory, one observer noted, means builders might cut prices - so buyers wouldn't need to borrow as much.

But Mr. Lereah said builders might sweeten deals in other ways.

One strong spot: Home values rose slightly in the fourth quarter, up an annualized 4.3%, according to the conventional mortgage home price index released last week by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. The national house price appreciation rate increased 5.1% from the fourth quarter of 1994 to the fourth quarter of 1995, putting the annual growth rate above the rate of inflation for the first time in five years, Mr. VanOrder said.

The Rocky Mountain states led in this category with 8% growth in value for the 12 months and a phenomenal 44% growth over the last five years.

Don't count on those states to do as well in 1996, Robert VanOrder, chief economist with Freddie Mac, said. When California's economy turns around - which many economists predict will happen this year - the mountain states may experience a remigration back to the Golden State.

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