Promotional packages on the two-story townhouse lay atop a Queen Anne hall table near the door. A stack of Long & Foster’s “Homebuyers Guide” brochures rested inches away. Every pillow had been fluffed. Every picture frame straightened. Now it was just a matter of welcoming visitors.
They began arriving within minutes of Webber opening the door. About 16 couples toured the three-bedroom townhouse, at 511 N. Henry St., by the end of that afternoon. That’s on top of the 19 couples who had visited the $599,000 home since its debut a week earlier.
One Arlington couple dropped by though the asking price was nearly $100,000 over their budget. Webber said they were having a hard time finding anything in their neighborhood even close to what they were willing to spend.
“They were quickly learning what market conditions were actually like,” Webber said of the couple. “Inventory is tight in Northern Virginia, and buyers are eager to take advantage of low interest rates before they go away.”
That market dynamic, Webber said, has meant multiple offers, bidding wars and a healthy clip of business. As a result, he has logged two closings a month in 2012, nearly double what he recorded a year earlier.
And he’s not alone.
Agents at Long & Foster are enjoying a resurgence in business that is boosting the bottom line for the homegrown firm. Sales at the Chantilly company topped $6 billion through March, up 14 percent from the same period a year ago. That figure represents 18,000 homes sold from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.
Behind the numbers, however, lies a larger story of how a local institution weathered the housing crisis and positioned itself for the recovery. Industry watchers agree that Long & Foster is not a passive recipient of the market’s good fortune, but has made necessary changes — including shutting down less-profitable business lines and offices, reducing its sales staff and relying more on technology — to remain competitive.
At the end of 2011, Long & Foster closed the largest percentage of home sales in the metropolitan Washington and Northern Virginia markets, garnering 18 percent market share in both areas, according to local listing service Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, or MRIS. Weichert Realtors, Coldwell Banker and ReMax trailed the firm with less than half that percentage of the market.
“Long & Foster weathered the storm well because they are fiscally healthy, technically sound and a very capable organization from a human resources perspective,” said Dave Charron, chief executive of MRIS. Coming out of the downturn, “they’ve really focused on making sure they are getting the best returns, curtailing where appropriate.”
P. Wesley Foster Jr. can recall some dismal housing markets in the 44 years since he and Henry A. Long opened their first real estate office. But few, if any, could rival the impact the 2007 crash had on the firm.