Tough Choices in a Tough Market

By Dan Rafter
Special to the Washington Post
Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sven Johnson and Pat Long were ready to sell their single-family home in Round Hill, a town in western Loudoun County. Both in their 70s, they wanted to leave behind the mowing, raking and time-consuming housework involved in keeping up a four-bedroom house.

They had visions of moving into a senior-living community. They even met with a real estate agent in early 2008 to discuss setting a fair price for their home.

Then they saw two neighbors lose homes to foreclosure. "For Sale" signs never seemed to move from the front lawns of nearby houses. Doubts about their plans grew with every new "Price Reduced" placard.

It took the couple until January -- while they were still searching for an active senior community -- to finally make a difficult decision: They would not put their home up for sale.

They are far from alone. Real estate agents in the District and the region say a growing number of clients are waiting to list their homes.

The couple had two reasons for their decision: They like their home. And the housing market's struggles made them realize that they probably wouldn't receive top dollar for it.

"We're still happy with our house. We're happy with the neighborhood. There are other things we'll do now to reduce the workload associated with staying in our home," Johnson said. "To be frank, as we looked around, we just never found anywhere to move that was nice enough to compensate for what looks like would be a pretty agonizing move."

As they searched for a new community, the couple read the newspapers and listened to the economic news on the radio. They knew the housing market was grim and seemed not to be getting better.

"We saw the asking prices of our neighbors' homes fall," Johnson said. "We could tell that things weren't getting any better. It didn't seem like the best time to put a home on the market."

The spring selling season had an increase in the number of sales in the Washington region. But many homeowners still decided either to not test the market or to take homes off the market when the offers weren't strong enough, said Brandon Green, who runs the District-based Brandon Green & Associates team, an affiliate of Keller Williams Realty.

"It's true we saw more sales, but housing prices continued to fall," Green said. "People are so uneasy now. A lot of people are worried about unemployment, even more so than they were before the spring selling season started. So some people who were thinking of moving up to a larger home decided against it. They were worried that they'd lose their jobs and not be able to afford a larger mortgage."

Green points to the experience of two clients who tried to sell a condo in the District.

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