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Still Marching Upward

Median Sales Price Tops $300,000

By Maryann Haggerty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page H01

House prices throughout the Washington area continued their relentless climb last year, with costs rising in every jurisdiction and the median sales price topping $300,000.

This reflected the national trend; sales prices and volume in the country as a whole also set records in 2004.

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The median sales price for single-family houses and townhouses in the Washington region rose 17.6 percent from 2003 to 2004, to $329,290, according to a Washington Post analysis of government sales records. The median is the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower.

A home buyer who made a 20 percent down payment of $65,858 on that median-priced house would face monthly principal and interest payments of $1,579 on a 6 percent, 30-year mortgage.

Rising prices have increased the net worth -- and the property tax bills -- of homeowners. They have also increased concern that many people are being priced out of the market. Nonetheless, the total number of sales also increased, rising 6.3 percent, to 106,463, from 100,121 in 2003.

The most expensive of the local jurisdictions remained Alexandria, which also had one of the sharpest price increases. The median there rose 23.3 percent, to $499,500.

In fact, the four jurisdictions with the highest prices were all in suburban Virginia. After Alexandria came Arlington County, up 17.7 percent to $465,000; Loudoun County, up 22.1 percent to $420,000; and Fairfax County, up 19.4 percent to $413,000.

Unlike in the preceding two years, prices in Loudoun, a magnet for new construction in fancy planned communities, outstripped those in Fairfax, the county whose high prices pushed all that development outward in the first place.

In contrast, the five jurisdictions with median prices under $300,000 were all in Maryland. The least expensive continued to be Prince George's County, up 20 percent to $222,000. The other four lower-cost counties were Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and Frederick, all of which would usually be considered on the outer edges of the metropolitan area. The median price in Montgomery County was $365,000, the highest in Maryland.

In the Post analysis, the District of Columbia showed the smallest increase, with the median price rising just 1.9 percent, to $316,000.

In part, this is because these sales numbers do not include condos. A separate analysis of condo sales showed the median sales price for those units in 2004 rose 22.1 percent in the District, to $323,500, higher than the median for single-family and townhouse sales. In addition, some data were missing; the District provided records only through November.

What was available shows that the Anacostia River continues to be an economic dividing line. All three of the Zip codes east of the river had median sales prices of $150,000 or less. Those were the only median prices in the city under $200,000, and among the lowest-price Zip codes in the region.

The Post analysis was based on sales as reported by local governments. It excluded commercial property, unimproved land and other non-standard transactions, as well as condominiums.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company