There's not much pizazz about the house on Hitt Avenue in McLean that drew bidders earlier this month. It's a basic 1959 brick rambler, with three bedrooms and 21/2 bathrooms, and it has long served as a rental. Its kitchen and bathrooms haven't been updated in years, and in heavy rains, the garage floods.
Asking price: $550,000.
Time on the market: five days.
Sale price: above the asking price.
While some national analysts warn that housing prices have soared to unreasonable heights and that rising interest rates could undercut them, Fairfax County real estate values appear to be continuing a spectacular four-year climb, meaning that buyers are paying more for less.
Sometimes even the sellers find the prices astounding.
A few snapshots from a fast-moving market:
* A tiny 1955 home in the Falls Church area -- 945 square feet -- is listed for sale at $350,000.
"It's shocking what you pay for a home around here," said the owner, Judith Prosise, a retired school bus driver, who said she and her husband will move to Montana. "But we're close to Tysons Corner."
* A 1938 home in Annandale, just slightly larger than Prosise's, is listed for $385,500. Two years ago, it sold for less than half that amount, $180,000, according to county records.
* And a four-bedroom home in Reston is selling for $459,900, about 21/2 times what it cost less than seven years ago.
"Can you believe that?" said the owner, Stephen Tracy, a federal worker who is moving to a new home in Loudoun County. "It's amazing."
A skeptic might note that these are just asking prices, not sale prices. But according to county records, each of these houses is selling for close to the county's average for those areas -- at least as of January.
Over the last five years, the average home price in the county has risen from $195,713 to $357,506, an 83 percent jump.
According to the county's appraisers, as of January the average single-family home in a typical neighborhood in the Falls Church area was valued at $346,000; in Annandale, $364,000; and in Reston, $462,000.
Values have likely moved up since then, and county assessments for tax purposes tend to drag behind market prices.
"Quite frankly, this is the hottest market I've seen -- or at least as hot as it was two years ago," said David Rathgeber, a real estate agent representing the seller of the home on Hitt Avenue. "Every month we have a certain number of homes on the market and twice as many buyers, so the buyers fight each other off with higher bids."
Analysts have long attributed part of that climb to the low interest rates for borrowing, which allow buyers to afford higher prices.
Now those interest rates have gone up slightly, and, nationally at least, home prices appear to be rising more slowly, according to federal officials. While the average home price in the United States jumped 7.71 percent over the last year ending March 31, appreciation was slower in the last quarter -- less than 1 percent, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.
Similarly, in the Washington metropolitan area, which stretches into West Virginia, home prices rose 12.65 percent over the year ending March 31, but appreciation slowed dramatically in the first quarter of this year, according to the federal office.
"This moderation in the growth of house prices is welcome, because continued price jumps, like those of the fourth quarter last year, would raise the potential for declines later on," Patrick Lawler, chief economist at the housing enterprise oversight office, said of the national figures.
Yet according to those who study the situation in Fairfax County, the hot market appears to be continuing despite the rising interest rates.
"It would be common sense to say that interest rate hikes would have some leveling effect on prices, but it's not happened here," said John McClain, senior fellow at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, which tracks the local economy.
The Northern Virginia economy is now growing at the rate of the boom years of 1999 and 2000, adding 50,000 jobs a year, he said.
"There's competition among the newcomers because there's not enough supply," he said. "It's a bidding war."
Fueling the market, according to real estate agents, are the people moving in to fill jobs in the growing regional economy.
"About half of my buyers are moving in from other areas," said Barbara Vandegrift, a real estate agent who specializes in Oakton, Vienna and Reston. "A lot of [them] are with government contractors who are a spinoff of national security, as well as technology workers."
Rathgeber, who tracks the supply of homes around the region, said the area that includes Alexandria, Arlington County and Fairfax County is the "hottest" in Northern Virginia because of a limited supply.
"Well-priced homes are drawing multiple offers in less than a week," he wrote in his newsletter to clients. "This is especially true in the close-in areas under $500,000. . . . Buyers who can wait, should wait."
"The ivory-tower experts who talk about a housing bubble are out of it," he said.
Eventually, some economists warn, prohibitive home prices in the region could stall the local economy as employers decide to locate offices in regions where housing is more affordable.
But for now, sellers are rejoicing in their windfall.
Joan Lofgren just sold her four-bedroom, 21/2-bathroom home on an Oakton cul-de-sac for more than $500,000. It cost $107,000 in 1979, according to county records.
"I was loving it and amazed," Lofgren said of her reaction to prices homes in her area were fetching.
"Yes, sellers are very surprised by the prices -- but so are the buyers," Vandegrift said. "It works both ways."
12404 Melmark Ct.
Asking price: $459,900
A four-bedroom, 21/2 -bathroom single-family house built in 1976
1,980 square feet McLean
6451 Hitt Ave.
Asking price: $550,000
A three-bedroom, 21/2 -bathroom single-family house built in 1959
1,248 square feet Pimmit
2022 Leonard Rd.
Asking price: $350,000
A three-bedroom, one-bathroom single-family house built in 1955
945 square feetAnnandale
4125 Bennett Dr.
Asking price: $385,500
A three-bedroom, one-bathroom single-family house built in 1938
1,008 square feet