Blink and They're Still There

For-sale signs line Hunton Place in suburban Leesburg, near where Steve and Misty DiPietro have been trying to sell their home for 83 days.
For-sale signs line Hunton Place in suburban Leesburg, near where Steve and Misty DiPietro have been trying to sell their home for 83 days. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Tomoeh Murakami Tse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Misty and Steven DiPietro have had a for-sale sign in front of their house for 83 days now. A neighbor's has been there seven months. Down the street, there are two more houses for sale, and around the corner, four more.

If it seems as if a lot of people are trying to sell houses in the DiPietros' suburban Leesburg neighborhood these days, that's because they are. The 20176 Zip code area, where their two-year-old house stands, has the highest number of homes for sale in the region, according to a Washington Post analysis of statistics from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the region's multiple listing service. More than 600 houses, townhouses and condos are on the market in that Zip code, which includes the northern portion of Leesburg and extends to the northern edge of Loudoun County.

What's happening in 20176 reflects a dynamic at play throughout the region. Homes on average are sitting on the market longer -- in many neighborhoods, much longer than they did a year ago. Those who study local real estate markets say the homes are lingering for two main reasons: because of a housing glut in areas where builders put up large developments during the housing boom of the past five years and because of buyers who are counting on better prices as the market cools.

The neighborhoods with the most single-family houses and townhouses for sale are concentrated in Loudoun and Prince William counties. The Zip codes with the most condos on the market are closer in, most notably in Northwest Washington, the southwest portion of Alexandria, northern Reston and Aspen Hill.

The MRIS statistics generally undercount the number of homes for sale because they don't capture people who are selling without an agent or builders who sell directly to buyers.

People are still shopping for homes, but with so many more to look at, that translates to less foot traffic for each listing, said Ian Moffett, a real estate agent with Realty Direct in Sterling who mostly works in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

"If you have 35 houses to choose from, you are going to choose five or six and look at those homes," Moffett said. "You are not going to see the most expensive house of the 35 homes."

That has meant sellers such as the DiPietros and their neighbors have had to scale back their expectations -- both for how long it will take to sell and how much money they will get.

"If I'm a buyer, I would probably come in and try to lowball me," said Steven DiPietro, 36, an Internet service program manager and father of three. "I think you have to be patient."

There are many variables to consider when evaluating sales by Zip codes. Zip codes differ in size and population density. So those with the most listings may not necessarily be the areas with the highest levels of inventory per capita. Nevertheless, experts and real estate agents say The Post's analysis, based on active listings from April 7, provides a detailed snapshot of the market at a time when the mounting number of unsold homes is perhaps the most visible sign that the housing boom is indeed over.

Potomac Crossing, where the DiPietros live, is a sprawling development with more than 900 single-family houses and townhouses. Forget "Desperate Housewives." Here, people talk about the latest adventures of sometimes-desperate home sellers, with neighbors trading tales about how much the asking price was reduced, friends keeping track of each other's foot traffic and always -- always -- trying to maximize curb appeal.

But making a house stand out can be tough when three others of similar style, size and age are up for sale on the same block. When her real estate agent made follow-up phone calls to potential buyers, Misty DiPietro said, they could only vaguely recall her house.

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