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Charting the market: Good news near equal in Md., Va

- - Thursday, August 16, 2012

The middle month of this summer bore a lot of resemblance to summers past -- but with better sales.

More than 7,700 buyers and sellers signed contracts in July in the Washington region. That's a drop of 8 percent compared to June, which is typical. Every year, we see sales decline steadily from the busy spring market, getting slower in June, then a little slower in July and even slower in August.

September is slower yet, as school starts and Congress is back in session. We typically see a little "October bounce" when sales improve over September. Then November and December are always the slowest months of the year.

So, because July is almost always slower than June, the 8 percent drop doesn't mean much of anything. What is more important is that this July outsold July 2011 by 5 percent. It was, in fact, the best July we've had since 2005, before the real estate meltdown began.

Total sales for January through July also were the best since 2005. More than 57,000 sales contracts were ratified (signed by both the buyer and seller) during the first seven months of 2012. That's an increase of 5 percent over the same period last year.

A lot of the region's improvement in real estate sales is thanks to Maryland buyers. If you compare the bar charts for Maryland and Virginia, you can see that in 2008, 2009 and 2010, Virginia buyers were significantly more active than those in Maryland.

One reason for that was home prices. Prices fell earlier in Virginia, which caused buyers to take notice and begin buying again before Maryland buyers did.

Maryland prices kept falling in 2009 and 2010, which seemed to cause some buyers to wait on the fence until the market hit bottom.

Since then, Maryland buyers have become more active, and today we find that total 2012 sales are nearly even on both sides of the Potomac.

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