House Prices Shoot Up

Housing prices in Prince George's County have continued to creep up as demand for new homes outside the Capital Beltway rises. Last year, the median sales price of a non-condominium home here rose 7.1 percent to $165,000, according to county sales records.

The sales were driven by low interest rates and rising home values, said Holly Sun, an economic analyst for the county government.

"The housing values are appreciating so fast, and people really do think it is a good investment compared to investments in the stock market. I think the [housing] market will continue to be relatively strong, but I think it will moderate to some extent," she said. "The price increases will slow down because of supply constraints. There is only so much room for new homes."

The most popular areas of the county are those that are unincorporated, such as Upper Marlboro, or cities such as Bowie, real estate agents said. The most expensive part of the county last year shifted from Upper Marlboro to Zip code 20720, an unincorporated area near Bowie that is minutes from the county's newest shopping mall, Bowie Town Center. The median home price there rose 10.7 percent, to $238,000.

Terri and Nathaniel Smith and their new baby recently moved into a new 2,800-square-foot home built in that area. The Smiths, both 32, purchased their home in Fairwood, a planned community developed by Rouse Co., which built Columbia in Howard County. The opening of Fairwood is one of the reasons home prices outside the Beltway rose last year.

The Smiths, who moved from Gaithersburg to be closer to their families, paid more than $300,000 for their four-bathroom, four-bedroom home.

"Buying a home is the best thing we could do," Terri Smith said. "We expect [home values] to continue to rise. It was all about the community, coming back home and the growth potential."

-- Krissah Williams


Making Horse Memory Books

After photographing their horses, their shows, the history of their lives, equestrians often develop the film and tuck the pictures away in drawers, boxes or shabby albums.

At least that's the thinking behind a business launched in Leesburg by Diane Hutchinson and Tricia Booker, riders with a passion for scrapbooking. Show and Tell Scrapbooks offers a service for those who wish they could display their photos and mementos but don't have the time, desire or artistic ability to do so.

Their scrapbooks use photos, captions, titles and even stories glued to decorative paper embellished with award ribbons, tags with the horse's name or decorations that relate to the season in which the photos were taken.

Both women also work outside the scrapbooking world. Hutchinson, 41, is a business operations analyst at SRA International Inc., while Booker, 37, is managing editor of the Chronicle of the Horse. But they spend weekends at scrapbook meetings throughout Virginia and beyond.

The gatherings, something like quilting bees, are places where women and maybe a man or two gather to show new ideas, work on scrapbooks and offer advice and tips on where to find the best new tools to cut photos or decorations for the pages.

"People have too many photos and are too busy" to put them in nice albums themselves, said Hutchinson.

Ann Denison, a member of the Loudoun West and Middleburg Hunt, said she asked Hutchinson, a co-worker, to create a book about Chesapeake, her Morgan cross, who died this winter after they had spent 13 years together.

To Denison, the $198 she spent was worth every penny. "Whatever the scale is, I'm on the low end of artistic," she said.

A small 7-by-7- inch scrapbook costs $320, a medium 8-by-10 book goes for $430 and a 12-by-12 runs $540. The albums can be smaller and priced by the page, which is what Denison chose.

"There are a gazillion companies that teach you how to scrap," Hutchinson said. "But it's more cost effective for us to do it if you don't like to."

Booker said she thinks barns could use their scrapbooks as marketing tools. Trainers could record children they teach, and breeders could display horses.

-- Amy Joyce