To gauge the region’s real estate market, we set out to find out what you can buy today for $500,000 — from downtown Washington to farm country in Loudoun County. Our diverse group of properties shows how different parts of the region are faring.
Overall, of course, in most places it’s still a buyers’ market, which means a $500,000 property today buys you a lot more space and amenities than at the market’s peak, between 2005-2007. But the recovery of the region’s real estate market has been patchy and varies widely by county.
We found a 3,200-square-foot, five-bedroom home in Upper Marlboro on nearly four acres that has been on the market for nearly a year. We also found an 875-square-foot condominium in a plush new downtown building on Massachusetts Avenue, near Chinatown. For commuters, a 1930s rowhouse in Arlington County within walking distance of restaurants and shops could be had. So could a newly constructed townhouse in Rockville near Rock Creek Regional Park. Want to buy a short-sale home? We found that, too — a 220-year-old stone-and-log cabin on five acres with five fireplaces.
There’s always been a big range in housing prices in the Washington area depending on where you live. But the differences are even more pronounced now because some counties have fared better than others during the housing boom, bust and recovery.
“Metro-wide, we’ve outperformed pretty much every housing market in the country, particularly in the recovery. But in the region, we have a lot of different local markets,” said John McClain, senior fellow with the George Mason Center for Regional Analysis. “What a $500,000 house looks like in D.C. and Arlington is totally different compared to what it looks like in Prince William, Spotsylvania and Prince George’s counties.”
The story of Washington real estate is very different from that of the rest of the country. The median price of the region’s existing condos, townhouses and single-family homes sold in August was flat, or a 0.30 percent increase over the past year, to $346,700, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, the U.S. median price fell 5.4 percent, to $168,400, during the same period.
In general, the farther you travel from downtown Washington, the slower the recovery has been. An analysis by McClain found that Arlington has rebounded the most, with median sales in August back to 90 percent of their November 2005 peak of $550,000. The District’s median sales are back at 87.9 percent of their peak; Fairfax and Alexandria are just over 80 percent of their peak; Montgomery County is at 77.5 percent of its peak, according to McClain.
But in Prince George’s and Loudoun, the recovery has been slower, and there’s a long way to go to reach those prices of the boom years.