- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sales of existing homes jumped by 1,300 in January, following the slowest December in six years.

Of course, sales are always higher in January than in December. January 2006 sales were higher than December 2005’s by 1,000.

Comparing one month to the preceding one is only so helpful. The more significant question is: How did last month measure up against January 2006?

Not great. Sales were down 6 percent overall, making it the slowest January since 2001.

But that doesn’t tell you much about individual jurisdictions. For example, sales were down 27 percent in Prince William County last month, while sales rose 4 percent in neighboring Fairfax County.

The same thing happened in Maryland. Sales were down 23 percent in Prince George’s County, while nearby Montgomery was down only 1 percent and Howard County was up 8 percent.

A couple of observations about these mixed results:

First, you can’t draw too many conclusions from one month’s data. It will be easier to understand the 2007 market once we have complete data for the first quarter.

Second, it is particularly risky to conclude very much from winter data. I don’t know if it is the holidays, weather, elections, vacations or congressional calendar, but data from December, January and February can be rather erratic.

These two observations also bear remembering as we look at last month’s price data.

Take Fairfax County, for example: In December, the median sales price was down 7 percent compared to December 2005. In January, however, prices were up 1 percent over last January.

At first glance, you might think this means prices jumped 8 percent from December to January. Not really.

Remember that when we look at January’s data for Fairfax, we are comparing some 1,300 sold homes to the 1,250 completely different homes that sold a year before.

Why were prices up 1 percent? Maybe more homes sold in McLean than in Springfield. That would certainly affect price data, right?

It’s just too difficult to conclude very much from a single month’s data from a county of a million people. That’s why I’ll be watching price trends over the coming months, to see how the current buyer’s market affects property values.

Chris Sicks

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

The statistics in this story reflect a metropolitan area that includes the Maryland counties of Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Howard, Charles and Frederick; the Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford; the city of Alexandria; and the District.

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