Doug Batchelor, a salesman for home builder Kettler Forlines Inc., brought a small television into work recently so he could watch the National Football league playoffs. But after the outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf last week, he replaced the small set with a larger TV so would-be home buyers could keep up with the fast-changing events.

Now, Batchelor said, the first thing house hunters do when they walk into his sales office in Loudoun County's Ashburn Village is glance at the TV set just inside the front door.

Unlike the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which sent interest rates and oil prices higher and home buyers fleeing, the recent scenes of attack planes over Baghdad and missiles in Israel apparently have failed to deter house hunters.

The local picture is mixed and very preliminary, market observers said. But some real estate agents and home builders say that sales have increased and that more people are traipsing through model homes and visiting open houses.

While other builders and real estate agents report seeing little change from previous weeks and wonder if the signs of life being spotted recently aren't just wishful thinking, at the very least, they're grateful that the war hasn't so far dealt the real estate market yet another blow.

"I think the most significant thing that has happened is that people are starting to make decisions," said Ray Chappell, chairman of Prudential Preferred Properties. As of mid-week, Prudential's Oakton office had sold 24 homes this month with a total sales volume of $5 million, more than November and December's combined total.

Why the apparent increase in activity?

"Beats the hell out of me," said P. Wesley Foster, president of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. Foster said his agents have seen more house-hunters lately, but, as yet, not more sales.

Like other builders and realty firms, Long & Foster suffered after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the deficit-cutting battles on Capitol Hill, when its sales volume slipped 10 percent below already depressed levels. But last weekend, 60 people turned out to tour a Chevy Chase home on the market for $850,000.

"I think the known of the war is better than the unknown," said Richard Rabil, executive vice president of the Van Metre Cos., a home builder that sold 16 houses last week in its 10 Northern Virginia projects, the highest level of sales in 18 months.

Real estate market experts said the increase in the last couple of weeks could be from any number of factors -- short-term exhilaration over the initial apparent success of the U.S. forces, lower mortgage rates, falling house prices, the lack of Redskins football on television -- or even just the usual seasonal burst of activity that follows the December doldrums.

And, they warned, bad news from the war that leaves the length and the outcome of the conflict in doubt could cause house hunters to turn away.

"When people are uncertain, they don't take on 30-year mortgages," said real estate broker James Warkentin of Warkentin & Associates, a McLean realty firm.

On the national level, real estate economists are keeping a close watch on the war for its impact on the economy, mortgage rates and home sales.

The National Association of Realtors is studying "potential war scenarios" and their likely impact on the housing market, according to John A. Tuccillo, chief economist of the NAR. He said that in the short term, higher government spending resulting from the war is likely to "give a boost" to the economy and will help the inevitable recovery from the current recession come a little faster.

Martin Perlman, former president of the National Association of Home Builders, said the Persian Gulf War has thrown one more complicating factor into a market that already was complex.

Initially, particularly after the first strike by the United States and its allies against Iraq, the reaction was positive, Perlman said. The start of the war relieved tension because it reduced the level of uncertainty about what would happen, he said.

A prolonged and costly war, however, could hurt the market badly, he said. Historically, long wars have brought high inflation and increased mortgage interest rates, he said.

"If the war drags on, housing could be hurt more than we have anticipated ... . It would certainly have a detrimental effect on the real estate market," he said.

Before war broke out, market analysts had predicted that mortgage rates would continue to decline because of the weakening economy. Even with the outbreak of war, analysts are sticking to their forecasts.

"As long as the war doesn't take a massive turn for the worse ... we are betting that the trend for interest rates is down," said David Seiders, chief economist for the home builders group. Seiders, as well as other economists, is predicting that mortgage rates will fall about one-half to three-quarters of a percentage point in the next six months, sending fixed-rate mortgages down to about 9.5 percent.

House hunters on the prowl last weekend had a variety of responses to the Persian Gulf War.

"The gulf is having absolutely no effect on me," said Jay Zimmet, who sells computer systems to law firms. He is being transferred by his company to the Washington area from Southern California and spent the weekend touring houses with his real estate agent.

As long as business is good, Zimmet said, guns in the Middle East won't stop his purchase. And, so far, business is good.

"When things are going badly, and everyone is going bankrupt, everybody needs lawyers," Zimmet said. "And when things are going well, everybody needs lawyers."

Patricia Mueller, who was touring model homes at Ashburn Village last weekend with her mother, Gladis Carbo', wasn't so optimistic. "The thing in the gulf worries me a lot," she said.

Mueller is trying to persuade her parents, who live in Ecuador, to move to Loudoun County to be closer to her new home. But since the war broke out, her parents have expressed fears about the weakening U.S. economy and about possible terrorist attacks.

"My father's concern is that they can send a missile to the Washington area," said Mueller. "{He says,} 'Maybe you should move back to Ecuador.' "

Staff writer Kirstin Downey contributed to this report.