washingtonpost.com > Business > Local Business

Housing Market Cooling, Data Say

By Kirstin Downey and Sandra Fleishman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 11, 2005

Lynn Edmonds and his wife, Sebnem, could barely wait to sign on the dotted line back in May when they committed themselves to pay $796,000 for a three-floor townhouse under construction in Alexandria's Cameron Station.

But since May, the sales prices for the development have fallen -- and units like the one the Edmonds bought are now being sold for $699,900. The Edmonds are facing the prospect of a $100,000 loss in value before they even walk through the front door.

"We blithely stepped into the contract, thinking it would hold its value -- but that's not the case," said Edmonds, 46, a program analyst and Air Force veteran. "I feel so stupid putting myself into it. It's real estate -- I knew on a theoretical basis that it might go up and it might go down, but now I know it on a practical level."

New data released yesterday show that in the past year, home sales in the Washington region have declined sharply, the inventory of unsold homes is up significantly, and prices have flattened and, in some cases, fallen.

The trend is most striking in Northern Virginia, where most of the region's growth has occurred, but it is evident almost everywhere. Statistics on home sales released by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the regional multiple-listing service, show that:

In the two counties and three cities that make up the Northern Virginia market, more than twice as many homes were available for sale in October as in the same month one year ago -- 7,122 homes, compared with 3,254 -- and sales are off 28 percent.

In the District, listings are up 62 percent and sales are down 28 percent.

In Montgomery County, listings are up 49 percent and sales are down 8 percent.

In Prince George's County, the listings are up 45 percent. But home sales have remained fairly stable, dropping only 2.6 percent.

The last time the region had this many houses for sale was the late 1990s, the MRIS figures show .

With housing supply higher and demand lower, prices have fallen from their summertime peaks -- though prices fluctuate every month and often decline in the fall because summer is the busiest home-buying season. Nevertheless, some slides are evident almost everywhere: In the District, the median price -- the point at which half the houses cost more and half cost less -- was $425,000 in October, down from a high in August of $435,088. In Fairfax County, the peak was in July, when the median price was $503,000; in October, it was $489,450. The peak in Montgomery County was also in July, when prices hit $460,000; the median price in October was $429,000.

The notable exception in the region was Prince George's County, where October's price was an all-time high of $315,000 -- possibly because demand, spurred by prices that are still less expensive than elsewhere in the region, has remained high.

CONTINUED     1           >

Market Slowdown
Home sales have declined sharply in the Washington area in the past year, while the inventory of unsold homes is dramatically up. Prices have flattened and, in some cases, fallen.
Market Slowdown
SOURCE: Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. | GRAPHIC: By Laura Stanton and Karen Yourish, The Washington Post - November 11, 2005
© 2005 The Washington Post Company