Will the nation's housing market roar on into 2000? Are mortgage rates going to keep creeping up? Will house prices continue to rise? Are home sales headed for another record year? And will homeowners keep remodeling at their current frenetic pace?

We asked several experts these questions, hoping a bit of crystal-balling would provide some insight for homeowners--and wannabe homeowners--on what they can expect this year.

The consensus? In 2000, real estate will rock, although perhaps not quite as exuberantly as in 1999. Experts predict that house prices will climb more than inflation, although they say the number of new houses built around the country will drop significantly. Most predict mortgage rates will hover around the 8 percent-plus level they're at today. Remodeling spending, they say, could dip.

"2000 will look like something close to a boom," said Robert Van Order, chief economist at mortgage-market giant Freddie Mac. "But we'll probably see a bit of leveling off. Both the economy and the housing side will slow down. But I'm almost grasping at straws to find something negative to say."

House prices rose more than 6 percent nationwide in 1999. In some areas--the District, New England and California in particular--increases were even bigger. What will America's houses be worth by the end of the year?

"Some of the exuberance will go out of house prices, but we're still looking at something in the order of a 4 percent increase nationwide.

"The chance of house price declines in 2000 are negligible, it won't be that kind of slowdown. There may be some contractions, like in Hawaii, for example, but that's about it. The Washington metropolitan area is looking very resilient. House price movements have lost a little momentum here, but not much."

-- David Seiders

chief economist, National

Association of Home Builders

"If I was crystal-balling it, I would say we'll see roughly a 3 to 5 percent increase in house prices in the D.C. metropolitan area. But nothing in life is absolute. Some areas may see a 5 to 10 percent increase, the closer-in areas and the city itself. Others will see no appreciation at all.

"Everything is tied to the stock market and the economy, so it's very hard to read. If fixed interest [mortgage] rates do not exceed 8.5 percent, you'll see the percentage increases I've suggested. If interest rates go lower than 7.5 percent, you'll see increases on the higher end of that scale. If they go higher than 8.5 percent, you'll see lower increases."

-- Marc Fleisher

top-producing local real estate agent,

Long & Foster Inc.

"Home prices will stay ahead of inflation in the year 2000, about three percentage points above inflation. So, we're forecasting a 5 percent increase in house prices nationwide, and that's conservative."

-- Robert Van Order

chief economist, Freddie Mac

"Home prices will continue to rise in the year 2000. The inventory of homes for sale is still relatively lean right now. So it'll still be a good year for home price appreciation."

-- David Lereah

chief economist, Mortgage Bankers Association

"House prices have increased strongly, particularly in the Washington area. In D.C. proper, they've increased about as quickly as anywhere in the country. If the economy stays strong, home price gains will also stay strong. Over the second half of the year, if the economy slows, the price gains in housing will start to diminish. For the year as a whole, I would look for price gains of 4 to 4.5 percent nationwide, stronger in the first half of the year and then weaker in the second half."

-- David Berson

chief economist, Fannie Mae

Inside the Home:

Designs for Living

American homes are getting bigger every year. Designs have come in and out of fashion. What will the home of 2000 look like?

"The average American home is now 2,230 square feet. That will go up about 20 square feet to 2,250 square feet in the year 2000. And that increase will be in the kitchen-family room, which is getting larger and larger.

"The only smaller thing people will accept are smaller lots. People are realizing that land is expensive and it's more work. Maintenance-free products will be paramount, like brick for exteriors.

"Ceilings will go higher than nine feet. People want more volume, more openness and more light, not only more space.

"We'll see more double bathrooms in master bedrooms in upscale homes. Like his and hers closets, we'll also see his and her bathrooms."

-- Gopal Ahluwalia

director of research,

National Association of Home Builders

"Informal family spaces will continue to be paramount in the year 2000. Formal living areas, like living rooms, will get smaller, but people are not ready to get rid of them altogether.

"High-definition television, super-fast Internet capabilities, high-speed wiring, will all be important in 2000.

"Technology will also influence the finishes on homes more, like laminates on floors and new synthetic exterior materials.

"We'll see more attention to smaller details, even in straight production homes. More unique features, column treatments, special moldings, things that were once reserved for only the pricier homes will start to trickle down."

-- Patrick Crowley

senior market analyst, Meyers Group

"In the last decade or so, we've seen a movement towards family-oriented open designs, like great rooms and family rooms. The pendulum will start to swing back in 2000. As the population ages, they're doing more entertaining, and they're looking more for the formality of design that's been missing."

-- Kermit Baker

director, Remodeling Futures Program,

Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies

Other design trends to watch this year:

* More hardwood floors throughout the house.

* Modestly priced homes sporting features once reserved only for upscale homes: central islands in the kitchen, higher ceilings, two- and three-car garages. Cheap is out.

* Plenty of Corian or more upscale materials, like granite, for kitchen counters.

* Media rooms, exercise rooms and home offices on the increase.

* More use of centralized home systems, like security systems, lighting control systems, energy management systems and central vacuuming systems.

Rates on Rise,

But Still Low

Mortgage rates have been creeping up over the past few months. This week, average rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage hit 8.15 percent. Rates affect both house sales and home prices. What do the experts say rates are expected to do this year?

"We know enough to say we don't know where rates are going. But my prediction is that mortgage rates will go up half a percent, hitting 8.5 percent, and then they'll go down . . . to 7.5 percent. The question is when is that going to happen?

"Even though rates are going up, they are still great. We can't lose sight of that. Ten years ago, people would've crawled across [Interstate] 495 in rush-hour traffic to get 8 percent. Now it's like the world is going to end.

"It's a very volatile time. Buckle your seat belts. It's going to be quite a ride."

-- Philip Grisdela

vice president, Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp.

"We're bravely assuming that the mortgage rate will stay basically where it is today. We're holding it at around 8.1 percent. Our forecast assumes that the markets have pretty much anticipated [Federal Reserve] moves and we're predicting Fed increases of a quarter percent in both February and March.

"It would be very fortunate and a benign outcome if our forecasts come out right. The key risk to all of this is the stock market."

-- David Seiders

chief economist,

National Association of Home Builders

"Over the next several months, mortgage rates will move up. The economy will remain strong and that will force the Federal Reserve to tighten at least two more times. If the economy cools in the second half of the year, and that's still an if, then mortgage rates will move down modestly over the second half of the year. I would expect mortgage rates to move up to over 8.25 percent, but then move back down to under 8 percent by year-end."

-- David Berson

chief economist, Fannie Mae

"We expect rates to hang around the 8 percent they're at now. There may be fluctuations, day to day, week to week, since the market hasn't made up its mind. This boom is longer and stronger than anything we've seen for a long time, but that leads people to worry about inflation. But we haven't seen the inflation. Some people worry one week, then the next they don't."

-- Robert Van Order

chief economist, Freddie Mac

Remodeling Market

May Soften a Bit

America's residential remodeling industry rivals the country's home-building industry in size, generating spending of about $150 billion a year. Some softening of the remodeling business is predicted this year. Why? And does that mean that a homeowner still wanting to remodel might be able to finally find a contractor?

"Business will be good, but it will probably dip a little. Remodeling has always been driven by consumer confidence. Many many indicators drive that. All those indicators cannot continue to be green lights.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but I have to believe it's going to dip. I hope it doesn't crash, but who knows what's possible? It already started dipping in December, probably because of Y2K concerns."

-- Mark Richardson

president, Case Design/Remodeling Inc.

"There is concern that the market will weaken a little bit as interest rates go up, as they're expected to do next year. Bigger remodeling projects are often financed. Remodeling has often tracked new residential construction pretty closely. Housing starts will be down between 6 and 8 percent in 2000. So the conventional wisdom is that we'll see some softening in remodeling.

"We track this pretty closely, though, and we've haven't seen any softening so far. The first half of the year will be at least reasonably strong and the second half of the year is a question mark right now."

-- Kermit Baker

director, Remodeling Futures Program,

Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies

Other trends in remodeling:

* Brisk business for handyman services, such as Bethesda-based Case Handyman. "People are wanting to do less and less and less themselves," said Mark Richardson, president of Case Design/Remodeling Inc. Case Handyman, started in 1992, is now the largest division in the company and the only one to expand outside the Washington area. It now operates in 30 U.S. cities.

* Technology advances by large remodeling companies where clients can go online to check the schedule and flow of their project.

* Master bedroom suites becoming the most popular remodeling project, followed closely by kitchen-family rooms and then bathrooms.

Home Sales, Starts

To Stay Strong

Last year marked the fourth record in a row for U.S. home sales. And 1.6 million houses also were built. Can that building and buying pace be sustained in 2000?

"Since this is the fourth record year in a row for home sales, it's hard to expect a fifth. We'll still see strong sales, maybe a little lower, though, maybe a leveling off.

"Housing starts [home construction] haven't been at record levels, but the value of housing put into place has been. There are not as many houses being produced, but they're bigger and better. I would guess that starts would go down this year to about 1.5 million. So, it'll slow down some, but still be quite strong."

-- Robert Van Order

chief economist, Freddie Mac

"We expect total housing starts to be down 7.8 percent this year over last. Single-family home starts will probably be down about 8 percent and multi-unit property starts about 6.7 percent."

-- David Seiders

chief economist,

National Association of Home Builders

"There will be a continued importance of in-fill projects in the metropolitan Washington market, especially in traditionally built-out markets. A lot of smaller in-fills are turning into custom-oriented projects. There are more unique product offerings."

-- Patrick Crowley

senior market analyst, Meyers Group