- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

If you have tried to purchase a home in a popular community inside the Beltway, you have probably found it frustrating and expensive. You are in good company.

The current Washington-area home market has forced most buyers to adjust their plans. Some purchase a smaller home than they had wanted. Others find a way to spend more than they had planned.

And other buyers decide to lengthen their commute in hope of finding that large home at a reasonable price.

A few years ago, Loudoun and Prince William were the destination for these buyers. While those counties are still more affordable than anything inside the Beltway, they have become rather expensive.

The median price for a home in Loudoun County last month was $450,000, which isn’t much better than Arlington’s $464,000.

Buyers in search of true bargains must drive south, to counties such as Stafford and Spotsylvania. I’m not saying you will find a bargain there, but that hope draws many buyers south.

“It is actually very frustrating for buyers who come down here,” says Gail Penman, associate broker with Century 21 Team Real Estate in Stafford. “It’s getting more and more difficult to find a single-family home below $400,000 in Stafford County. Inventory is very limited, and buyers are using escalation clauses and waiving home inspections to win contracts just like they are up north.”

While most Realtors will discourage the waiving of a home inspection because it puts the buyer at risk, the fact that buyers in Stafford County are doing so indicates that they have become as desperate as buyers inside the Beltway.

That kind of desperation and competition inevitably pushes up home prices. The median price for a home in Stafford County was $350,000 last month — a 112 percent increase over March 2001.

Buyers who find that Stafford is still too expensive can drive a little farther south to Spotsylvania. The median price there was $275,500 in March — up by “only” 98 percent compared to March 2001.

Contact Chris Sicks by e-mail (csicks@gmail.com).

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