- - Thursday, May 5, 2011

Although the media are reporting falling home prices caused by a U.S. housing market that continues to struggle, readers of this column know the Washington market is quite different.

Close-in communities, including Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery counties, and the District itself have been outselling most of the country, and home prices are rising as a result.

As you go farther from the region’s center, however, the picture is more complicated.

Take Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, for example. Sales there were up 10 percent in March over March 2010, and inventory fell a bit.

Yet prices were a little lower than they were last year, and homes that were sold in March spent an average of 129 days on the market. That is not a brisk seller’s market.

Contrast those figures with nearby Prince George’s County, where sales were up 27 percent in March and homes sold in 99 days. Or look at the District, where homes sold in 83 days and prices were up 7 percent in March.

Still, other Maryland suburbs did a little better than Anne Arundel. Frederick and Charles are roughly the same distance from the District as Anne Arundel, but prices in Frederick were up last month, and sellers there had a much better time, with a sales chance figure of 30 percent.

(Dividing sales figures for the month by the inventory on the last day of the month results in a percentage, which 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.)

Sales chances were 19 percent in Anne Arundel County, which means buyers still had an advantage over sellers because there were so many homes on the market. When chances are below 20 percent, buyers typically can take their time without fear of another buyer snatching up their favorite home.

Not so in Montgomery County. With sales chances of 41 percent, sellers there had reasons to be very happy in March.

Montgomery typically is Maryland’s strongest market. The fact that it is out ahead of the rest of the state shouldn’t be a surprise. It should offer an encouraging example of where the rest of the state could be headed.

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