- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Not too long ago, homebuyers who wanted to find an affordable place to live went shopping outside the Beltway. In Maryland, counties such as Frederick, Anne Arundel and Charles offered a little more land - and lower prices - than communities closer to the District.

In 1999, the average detached home in Frederick County sold for $188,000. In Charles County, the average was $170,000. No wonder homebuyers were drawn to areas outside the Beltway.

However, during the housing boom from 2000 to 2005, homes were expensive everywhere. Prices peaked in 2006, when the average detached home in Frederick County sold for $434,000.

Prices like that pushed buyers out even farther, up as far Pennsylvania, out to West Virginia, and south to counties like St. Mary’s in Maryland and Culpeper in Virginia.

To download a PDF of the chart, click here

Now that prices in the Washington region have fallen so much, buyers don’t have to travel so far to find something affordable.

“Some of those people who had moved out further because of housing costs are now moving back,” says Steve Fox of Fox Realty Group in Frederick. “They want to be closer to work and avoid that long commute.”

This March, the average price for a detached home in Frederick County was down to $307,000 - that is $127,000 less than in 2006. If $307,000 still sounds pricey, you can always continue north on Interstate 70 toward Franklin County, Pa. The average price for a detached home there was $217,000 in March.

If you work in Rockville or the District, is it really worth the drive to save $90,000 on your house? Many buyers seem not to think so.

“We’ve definitely seen a pickup in activity in the past three months,” Mr. Fox says. “We’ve got some county grants that help people buy, and prices are now fairly reasonable. We still have a lot of foreclosures in the pipeline, but the banks are being reasonable, and buyers are actively buying them.”

Existing-home sales were up 53 percent in Frederick County in March. While sales were flat in Charles and Anne Arundel counties, the inventory of unsold homes has fallen in both counties. That is a key factor in the recovery of any housing market.

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

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