Resolved: To Buy, Sell or Finish

The softer market
The softer market "means you work a little bit harder and a little bit smarter," says Cosmopolitan Properties founder Sonya Abney. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Tomoeh Murakami Tse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 30, 2006

Jen Cox, a renter in the District for a decade, has been watching her credit and saving money for a down payment on her first home. With the real estate market cooling, Cox believes her time has come. Next year will be her year -- her year to become a homeowner.

"I'm ready. It's something that I really want," said Cox, 35, who works for a D.C. environmental nonprofit organization. "I'm determined to find a place."

Come Monday, a gust of resolve will be released into the Washington real estate market with the arrival of the new year. It represents the hopes of people who help shape the local housing market -- buyers such as Cox, as well as sellers, investors, renters, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, builders and developers.

Their goals are ambitious, humble, optimistic and realistic all at once -- perhaps a reflection of the less-than-clear housing outlook for 2007. Has the market really "bottomed out"? Or will prices fall further? Should buyers hang tight? Or is it the sellers who should not blink? Is next year the year to rent or to buy? To move up or to renovate? To build condos or rental apartments?

Experts are split about which direction the market is heading. Figures released this week showed both new-home and existing-home sales increased in November from October, but sales of both types of homes remained well below the levels of a year earlier.

David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, earlier this month declared that "most of the correction in home prices is behind us." Meanwhile, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and a housing bear, thinks prices will continue to drop throughout next year.

Despite the uncertainty, the resolute are letting go of their doubts and hesitations and are setting goals for 2007, both big and small, new and long-held.

While Cox will be canvassing the District and close-in Virginia suburbs for a two-bedroom condo or townhouse, Samuel Cooper, 40, of Springdale, will be on the lookout for a buyer for his five-bedroom single-family house in Maryland. Cooper, tired of spending days each month cleaning, wants to settle in a townhouse nearby.

David Henderson, 69, would like to be welcoming the new year with a new house. But first he and his wife, Peggy, must sell their house of 33 years. The four-bedroom split-level on a quiet cul-de-sac in Springfield has been on the market for six months now.

Nonetheless, Henderson said he is hopeful that by this time next year, the couple will be in their dream retirement house near a lake in Mississippi.

"It's going to sell one of these days," Henderson said of his Northern Virginia house, noting that two buyers recently came to look at it on the same day despite the slow winter season. "There are serious buyers out there. When someone comes to see your house now, they're looking to buy something."

What Mark Livingstone is looking to buy next year are investment properties.

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