- - Thursday, May 19, 2011

Last April, nearly 10,000 existing homes were sold in the Washington metro area. It was the best month for area sellers since 2005. In other words, it was the most encouraging month since the real estate meltdown began.

One catch: Last April was an anomaly, a freak of government that can’t be repeated.

The federal tax credits that offered homebuyers thousands of free dollars expired April 30, 2010. Many of those 10,000 buyers were folks rushing to buy a home before the free cash was gone. (I was one of them.)

An interesting effect of that competition among buyers was that home prices rose in April 2010. During the first quarter of this year, prices rose in many jurisdictions - but when you look at median sales prices for this April, many jurisdictions just couldn’t beat that competitive market of last year.

Back to those tax credits. Soon after they disappeared, I began wondering just how much lower sales would be this April. I figured they had to be lower but didn’t know how much.

Turns out sales were 15 percent lower this April than a year ago. Despite that fact, the surprising truth is that 2011 is turning out to be a better year than 2010.

During the first four months of 2010, we saw 29,000 existing-home sales. This year, 30,180 were sold from January through April.

Still, sales dropped from March to April this year, which is hard to explain. Interest rates aren’t much different, although economic worries certainly haven’t dissipated.

Looking ahead, we can be sure May sales will beat May of last year, if only because May 2010 suffered from the aftershocks of those tax credits going away. Once June statistics are in, it will be easier to compare the two years.

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