Housing Review 2009

A Trying Year, by The Numbers

By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 28, 2009

By any measure, 2008 was a brutal year for the local real estate market, as gains made during the housing boom continued to unravel.

Home sales fell throughout the region as credit dried up and buyers fearful of an increasingly uncertain job market sat on the sidelines. No local jurisdiction except the District was spared from falling home prices, and some of the hardest hit Zip codes in the suburbs had declines of more than $100,000.

Region-wide, the median sales price for single-family houses and townhouses fell 8 percent, to $382,500 from $417,000, in 2007, according to a Washington Post analysis of government sales records. The median price for condominiums also fell 8 percent, to $268,000 from $289,900. The median is the point at which half the homes cost more and half cost less.

The economic events of the year played out in every segment of the market. The wave of distressed sales ¿ those homes sold by banks or by homeowners facing foreclosure ¿ dragged down prices at the lower end. Meanwhile, the stock market's dive in 2008, 38 percent as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, kept wealthier home shoppers from committing to purchases at the higher end, real estate agents said.

"It was depressing," said Mark Smith, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Gaithersburg. "We saw an increase of properties coming on the market, a decrease of credit flowing to what banks consider 'marginally qualified people' and an increase in short sales and foreclosures."

Not all the news was bleak. Midway through the year, the glut of foreclosure properties spurred a buying spree in some jurisdictions, particularly Prince William County, as many first-time buyers found prices within their reach and investors snapped up homes.

"There was a significant shift in the market toward the lower end .?.?. that we look at as a very encouraging sign," said David Howell, a managing broker in the McLean office of McEnearney Associates. "You start to see the rebound when first-time home buyers and investors come back."

-- The District fared the best out of all the jurisdictions in the region, according to The Post's analysis. While sales volume slid 30 percent, to 2,239 homes from 3,212 in 2007, the median home price rose 8 percent, to $520,000, from $480,000.

The biggest price increase occurred in Georgetown's 20007 Zip code, one of the District's most expensive neighborhoods. There, the median home price shot up 18 percent, to $1,075,000 from $909,150, even as the number of sales decreased to 199 from 237.

"The people buying there are going to be more economically insulated, just by the mere fact that you have to be wealthy in order to buy there," said Joseph Himali, owner of Best Address Real Estate in Georgetown.

Meanwhile, the Zip code with the biggest drop in median home price was 20011, which includes parts of Petworth and Columbia Heights. There home prices fell 10 percent, to $375,000 from $415,000, and homes sales dropped to 290 from 433. Data for the District and the other jurisdictions in this story exclude condos.

"The move-up market has continued to stay strong in D.C.," said Holly Worthington of Long & Foster Real Estate. "It is the first-time-buyer market that got hit with a whammy when the subprime market fell."

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company