New statistics on house sales prove what anyone who is shopping for a home already knows: The market in Prince William is still red-hot.
Analysts expected the residential real estate market to cool off from last year. But sales figures for last month show that houses for sale in Prince William are rarer, selling faster and for more money than last year. Some buyers may be concerned about traffic, a lengthy commute and overpaying, but it is not stopping them.
"It's a simple matter of supply and demand," said B. Denise Nebb, executive vice president of the Prince William Association of Realtors. "Folks are trying to get into the market while they can."
The housing market across the Washington metropolitan area remains very strong because of still-low interest rates, a healthy local economy and a bright jobs outlook, real estate agents said.
The numbers speak for themselves. The average sales price in Prince William has risen 26 percent from April 2003 -- a faster rate of increase than in closer-in areas such as Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax City, where prices increased 21.2 percent.
In Prince William, the average house was on the market for 19 days, down from 33 days last year. And sellers are almost naming their price. Last year, houses sold for an average of $2,165 less than the asking price. Last month, that difference was a minuscule $180.
"It's growing faster, but the average price is still higher in the closer-in areas," said Amy Ritsko-Warren, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors.
The average sales price for a Prince William home last month was $293,608. The average home price in those closer-in counties and cities was $405,057.
One reason the price in Prince William is growing faster is that the county is more affordable, Ritsko-Warren said.
Agents said the western end of the county, around Gainesville and Haymarket, is the hottest part of the market.
"It is not so far out anymore," said Nancy Walker, an agent with Crossroads Realtors in Manassas. "What used to be suburban is no longer suburban. In Fairfax, what used to be a quiet, nice place is busier and more crowded, and people are looking further out. And that happens to be our area right now."
County board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large) said Prince William has done a good job in making itself attractive to newcomers.
"We are known as a community that is very family-friendly and has a great deal of amenities," Connaughton said. "People are still getting a better value for their dollar than in other areas."
Another factor driving up sales prices is the lack of inventory. In April 2003, 1,424 houses were listed for sale in the county. Last month, there were 997 for sale, so more buyers were chasing fewer sellers.
For Walker, that translates into being more aggressive in trying to find houses for her customers.
"I tell them to point out the houses that look good to them, and I'll knock on the door and ask if they want to sell," she said. "Owners understand what is going on. They are getting phone calls and letters."