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Popularity Has Its Price for Home Buyers

As Single-Family Prices Rise, So Do Condo Sales

By Barbara Ruben
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page PW63

Competition is so fierce for houses in Arlington neighborhoods near Metro stops that getting 10 to 30 offers on a property is common, according to Walt Babic, a real estate agent who has sold houses in the area for 33 years.

"This year looks like we'll get just as many multiple offers in the lower price ranges -- that is, anything under $800,000," said Babic, who works at Coldwell Banker.

Southern Walk is one of many housing developments being built in Loudoun County. (Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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Last year, Arlington home buyers paid the highest median price for single-family houses and townhouses of anyone in the Washington metropolitan area, according to statistics compiled by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and Metropolitan Regional Information Services Inc. The median is the point at which half the sales prices are higher and half lower.

At $550,000, the median price in Arlington has more than doubled from $259,000 five years earlier. Over the same period, the median condominium price climbed from $131,125 to $317,000.

Babic points to the area around the Clarendon Metro station as particularly popular, from the leafy Lyon Village neighborhood with its eclectic assortment of houses dating from the 1920s and 1930s to new condos crowding around the Metro stop.

Alexandria is second to Arlington in prices, with a median single-family house price of $515,000 in 2004, up from $240,000 in 1999. Although nearly the same number of houses were sold in 1999 as in 2004 (1,545), the number of condos sold nearly doubled, from 949 to 1,840. Their median price also more than doubled, from $112,000 to $246,000.

Old Town, Del Ray and Rosemont have continued to lure buyers, with far fewer houses for sale than the number of people who want to live there, said Jim Crowe, a Long & Foster agent.

"Del Ray and Rosemont are a mix of urban hip with a suburban pace and space," he said. "It doesn't hurt that in 13 minutes you can be over the 14th Street Bridge and into D.C."

Median prices have nearly doubled in Fairfax County, from $215,000 in 1999 to $425,700 in 2004, with 3,300 more houses sold, a 20 percent increase in volume. At the same time, counties farther out also saw huge increases in prices and numbers sold. Loudoun County's median price rose from $198,000 to $409,940. Loudoun, one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, saw the number of houses sold more than double in five years, from 3,545 in 1999 to 7,421 in 2004.

Prince William saw similar growth in home prices. The median price of a single-family house shot up from $139,000 to $305,000 between 1999 and 2004, while the number of houses sold more than doubled, from 4,459 to 10,141. The number of condos and cooperative units sold grew even more rapidly, with 852 sold at a median price of $196,000 last year, vs. 248 in 1999 at a median price of $79,000.

In Northern Virginia, "the prices continue to amaze me," said David McWatters, a Long & Foster agent, who has sold real estate in Loudoun and Fairfax counties since 1979. "The problem is supply and demand. If you get 15 contracts on one house, that means 14 people are still out there looking."

McWatters said he has seen the greatest interest in Loudoun's upper-end communities of Lansdowne and Belmont and in more midrange neighborhoods like those with ramblers in Sterling, where the houses are still priced in the $300,000s.

Virginia's skyrocketing real estate prices are mirrored throughout the Washington region, with median prices of both single-family houses and condos doubling between 1999 and 2004 in most jurisdictions.

Across the Potomac in the District, the median price of a single-family house or townhouse jumped from $180,000 in 1999 to $384,000 last year. Condos appreciated at an even faster rate, with prices climbing from a median of $126,145 in 1999 to $325,000 in 2004.

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