The bungalow in the East Falls Church area of Arlington had two bedrooms, one bath and no central air conditioning. And even though its $425,000 price tag could buy a house double its size in Fairfax County, such a bidding war erupted over this house that its selling price ascended to $461,000.
For Carol Temple, a real estate agent in the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage office in Arlington, the sale represented the epitome of the buying frenzy in Arlington's northern half last year. Such sales helped boost Arlington County's median house price 18.9 percent to $344,950 from 2001 to 2002, according to a Washington Post analysis based on county sales records. Condominiums were not included.
Prices in some areas of the county skyrocketed even more. In Zip code 22201 (Clarendon), median prices jumped 47.6 percent last year. The opening of Clarendon Market Commons, with its mix of stores, apartments and townhouses in the range of $600,000 to $700,00, helped boost the Zip's median house price to $469,000.
"Nobody wants something as bad as when everybody wants it," Temple said in explaining the flurry of interest in Arlington. Among the reasons for the close-in county's allure: short commutes and an eclectic mix of housing.
Although there still were not enough to go around, 2,748 houses sold in Arlington County in 2002, an increase of 246 from the year before.
"It's the sort of environment that's embraced by both families and singles," said Barbara Donnellan, Arlington's finance director. "And that's created a strong demand for houses that in turn is driving up their prices."
Arlington's property tax rate is less than in neighboring jurisdictions -- 8.1 percent lower than Alexandria and 18 percent lower than Fairfax County. That may help ease a bit the bite of rising property tax assessments, sent to residents in January. The average single-family home assessment increased by 17 percent to $316,000, Donnellan said.
But not all of Arlington has seen such frenzied buying, or annual gains of at least 20 percent.
"I think of Route 50 essentially as a Mason-Dixon Line," said Sharon Chamberlin, an agent with the McEnearney Associates office in Arlington. "Although North Arlington is hotter than hot, South Arlington does not as often see multiple bids."
Chamberlin said this may be because some of the properties are not as well kept up or renovated, and some are less convenient to Metro. That is true of Zip codes 22206 (Shirlington) and 22202 (Pentagon City and Crystal City). Their gains were 13 percent and 14.3 percent respectively.
Although Donnellan insists that no individual properties went down in value, Zip code 22209 (Rosslyn) saw its median price plummet 34.4 percent. But that does not mean that Rosslyn, just across the Potomac from Georgetown, is losing any popularity contests, Chamberlin said.
Rather, new townhouse developments, such as Monument Place and Monument View, which had price tags of $1 million or more, were bought up in 2001 and have not been resold. That helps explain why the median home price dropped to $205,000 from $313,000.