- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

There are three counties in the Washington metropolitan area that don’t touch one another, yet they have some similarities when it comes to home shopping.

They are Frederick County in the north, Anne Arundel County to the east and Charles County down south. Although they have numerous differences, home buyers will find that each offers a similar level of competition and affordability.

Because none of them touches the Beltway, I consider these “outlying” counties. Generally speaking, this means buyers will find more available homes at lower prices. Sure, you can drive farther and pay less, but if you want to be in the Washington metro area without paying Montgomery or Arlington prices, these three counties are good options.

For the past several years, the median sales price for all housing types was between $300,000 and $350,000 in Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel. By contrast, prices in most of Northern Virginia have been $450,000 to $500,000 in recent years.

Because it is more affordable to buy in the outlying counties of Maryland, they have long attracted the attention of buyers fleeing the congestion and expense of inside-the-Beltway communities.

Buyers will find not only lower prices, but also less competition from other buyers. Sales chances are lower in Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel than in the Beltway jurisdictions.

(Dividing sales figures for the month by the inventory on the last day of the month results in a percentage that I call “sales chances.” A figure below 20 percent indicates a buyer’s market. Higher figures mean we’re in a balanced market or a seller’s market.) Frederick County, for instance, was one of the easiest places to buy a home in June. With 2,440 homes from which to choose and just 231 sales all month, buyers could take their time without fear of another buyer snatching up their favorite home.

Sales chances of just 11 percent make Charles County a great place to buy. During the hot market of 2004, the low prices of homes in Charles County made it one of the more difficult places to buy a home. However, in June, buyers found plenty of available properties that were taking nearly three months to sell.

Chris Sicks

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

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