Stagnant Market Has Ups, Downs Across Region
District Held Own Against Suburbs

By Barbara Ruben
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 24, 2008

The District far outshone its suburban neighbors in housing prices in 2007.

As median sales prices fell in Northern Virginia and grew by only a smidgen in suburban Maryland, the price of single-family houses and townhouses in Washington rose 7 percent.

In 2007, the median price was $480,000, up $30,000 from the year before. The median is the point at which half the sales prices were higher and half were lower.

But in the city, as in nearly all the surrounding suburban jurisdictions, the number of houses sold fell, to 3,212 last year from 4,236 in 2006. Across the country, the real estate market is weaker than it has been in years as the industry deals with a hangover from the boom at the beginning of this decade.

In the area east of the Anacostia River that includes Deanwood and Benning Heights, Zip code 20019, the median price shot up 10 percent to $255,000, still the lowest in the District.

Houses in 20032, in Southeast east of the river, increased by 6 percent to a median price of $257,500. The median price in 20020, Anacostia and Hillcrest, rose 4 percent to $279,000.

For the most part, neighborhoods with high median prices gained the least or even lost value.

For example, in 20007, which includes Georgetown, the median price slipped $11,000 to $899,000. Median prices in 20008, which includes Cleveland Park, Woodley Park and Van Ness, barely budged, but with the median price of a house at $1.15 million, it's the most expensive of the District's Zip codes among those with more than a few sales.

One of the largest declines in median housing values was in 20012, where the price fell from $539,000 to $489,000. This Zip code encompasses 16th Street Heights and Takoma, near the Montgomery County line.

To Long & Foster real estate agent Ron Sitrin, the hottest neighborhood in the District is Logan Circle. "The way it has developed is just beautiful," he said.

Although no single-family houses sold in Logan's 20005 Zip in 2007, nearby 20009 saw a 2 percent gain in median value, from $699,000 to $715,000.

The pace of transactions fell in the city as a whole, although sales remained stable in some areas. In 20016, which includes Palisades, American University Park and Tenleytown, 240 houses sold in 2006, compared with 237 last year. They gained 1 percent in price, with a median of $907,500. In nearby 20015, which includes Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights, 201 houses sold in 2006, compared with 185 last year, selling at a median of $840,000, up 3 percent.

Overall, in the Washington region, the price of single-family houses and townhouses edged up just a half-percent in 2007. The median price was $420,000. Condominium unit prices inched up 1 percent, to a median price of $289,900.

As prices stagnated, the number of sales dropped. Last year, 58,509 houses sold, down 31 percent from the previous year. The story was similar with condos. In 2007, 15,282 units changed hands, down 25 percent from 2006.

In Northern Virginia, the median price of a single-family house or townhouse dipped 2 percent to $485,000. Arlington County alone saw a price increase. The median price there rose 2.7 percent to $580,000, the highest in the metro area. Loudoun County housing lost 8 percent of its value.

"If I had a crystal ball, I'd pick a lottery number and run," said Loudoun County real estate agent Linda K. Beck, with Lighthouse Realty. "I hope it changes and changes quickly. But I don't see that happening, however, for at least a year."

In the Maryland suburbs, housing prices rose in 2007, but only slightly. The median sales price in the seven counties reviewed gained 1.4 percent, inching up to $374,000 from $369,000 in 2006. Prices for condo units rose 1.6 percent, to $255,000 from $251,000.

Throughout the region, there are "plenty of buyers out there, but they are very, very cautious that they are making the right decision," said Coldwell Banker real estate agent Jane Fairweather.

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