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How Much Home Does Your Money Buy Now?

By Sandra Fleishman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page H01

So, as home prices here continue to hit new highs, what can a house-hunter expect to find out there?

If your budget is, say, $250,000, $500,000 or $1 million, what can you get?

_____The Buck Stops Here_____
Affordability: How much house can you buy for $200,000, $500,000, and $1,000,000?

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Not as much as you used to, according to real estate agents.

"It's just a sellers' market out there," said Kathy Furini of KHF Realty in Middletown, Md., who recently found a buyer for her mother's Silver Spring house in about a week -- and for more than the $499,900 listing price. Furini said she didn't even have time to prepare marketing materials.

Lower-priced homes sell most quickly, agents say, because of unending demand from renters and first-time buyers. But houses at all but the highest price levels are moving immediately if properly priced.

Places such as the $250,000, two-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath condo in Rockville that was listed this month by the Patrick Rutledge Team of Llewellyn Realtors in Rockville "just don't really last," said team member Naomi Richardson. The unit was gone in about five days.

"Anything in that price range is picked up right away . . . unless it's grossly overpriced," Richardson said. "And there's just not that much available."

No kidding, according to the most recent statistics from the local multiple listing service, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

Earlier this month, MRIS reported that the 23,000 properties then listed for sale in its database was "a historic low."

With high demand and low inventory, the old real estate cliches are truer than ever, agents say: "Location, location, location" determines price and availability. Sought-after neighborhoods close-in to the District or near Metro stations are among the hardest to buy into. Farther out, it's expensive and competitive to buy in new-home neighborhoods that boast the most square footage or the most amenities.

But even with inventory at a low point, that still means tens of thousands of homes are for sale at any point. With the help of real estate agents Keene Taylor Jr. of Taylor Long & Foster in Chevy Chase and Kendra Wright of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Old Town Alexandria, the Real Estate section looked at what was available on one day this month at three price points: $250,000, $500,000 and $1 million.

Taylor and Wright pulled listings for the District, a handful of nearby Virginia counties and Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties in Maryland. It quickly became apparent that sellers hope to snare buyers by coming in just under a round number, say at $249,999 instead of $250,000. And once those buyers are interested, they're likely to start bidding up the price.

There were, for instance, no condos listed in the District right at $250,000, and nothing was available in Northwest at $500,000. But a few listings popped up when Taylor queried the computer database at just above or below those numbers.

While there were places available at all three prices throughout the region that day, March 2, don't consider this a shopping list -- many of these homes quickly went under contract.

The chart above shows some of what turned up.

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