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Housing Market Cooling, Data Say

Real estate investor Andy Cabral has had a townhouse on the market at the Wheaton Metro station for 11 months, and though he has steadily dropped the price, it has not sold.

"It's now below the appraised value," Cabral said. "I'm really not happy."

His sister-in-law, Sandra Cabral, a real estate agent with Re/Max Pros in Kensington, puts it more succinctly: "He needs to get rid of it; it's an alligator eating all the money."

But she sees an upside to the situation, with good opportunities to make purchases cheaply in the future. "Within two or three years, there's going to be a whole lot of foreclosures, because with all of the interest-only loans, a whole lot of people don't realize that in two years their payments are going to go up."

Homeowners who want to sell, meanwhile, are drumming their fingers and waiting for buyers to knock on the door.

Violain Romans-Murray, 33, is sick of the long commutes from her four-bedroom home in Gainesville; it can take her husband three hours to get home from his job as a technical manager for General Dynamics Corp. in Fair Lakes. The couple put the house on the market last month for $589,900, hoping to buy a home closer to their jobs. But three weeks have passed, and only two buyers have even visited. When they sold their previous house in Centreville in 2002, it sold in five hours.

"Honestly, we're thinking we might pull it off the market," said Romans-Murray, a mother of three and special projects coordinator for a trade group based in Herndon. "It's scary."

But many would-be buyers have withdrawn from the real estate market, saying prices are just too high to consider making a purchase. Dan McGrath, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, and his wife, Teresa, who works at the Environmental Protection Agency, have been married for four months, have a combined income of about $100,000 a year and would ordinarily be good candidates to become first-time homeowners. But the McGraths, who live in the District's Shaw neighborhood, have been shocked and repulsed by the prices for homes in the area, including the $400,000 price on one 800-square-foot studio they visited.

"We can't figure out who -- for the life of us -- would buy a place with two doors for $400,000," said McGrath, 28. "We want to think about a future but homeownership here is just not possible."

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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
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