- - Thursday, December 27, 2012

Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to the Washington area in 2012 is that it was “balanced.” The market was no longer cold, nor was it irrationally hot.

“It was a decent year for sellers and also for buyers,” said David Rathgeber of Your Friend in Real Estate. “Sellers could sell anything in a reasonable amount of time if it was priced correctly, and buyers could find what they wanted and buy it without having to fight other buyers too much.”

Of course, with 2013 beginning in a few days, most people are more concerned with the market to come than the one we leave behind. What can buyers and sellers expect next year?

“We are entering next year with energy and optimism — which is different than recent years,” says Susann Haskins, branch manager of Long & Foster’s Bethesda Gateway office.

“In 2012 we saw much more activity in the market. We saw price increases return. Stability and consumer confidence are back. In fact, what we are seeing now is a tremendous lack of inventory,” she said.

While Mrs. Haskins is speaking only of Montgomery County and the District when she says there aren’t enough homes for sale, reduced inventory is having an impact on the entire Washington-area market.

On Nov. 30, 2008, more than 39,000 unsold properties were listed for sale in the database of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, the company that handles listings for Realtors in this region.

Four years later, on Nov. 30, 2012, just 15,700 homes were available for sale. Yet buyers are more active now than they have been in years. This means homes have been selling more quickly, and often for more money.

“We are seeing multiple offers on properties,” Mrs. Haskins said. “The offers are often well above asking price, and the homes are sold in just a day or two. Our buyers and agents tell me there is nothing to buy out there.”

Mr. Rathgeber said he thinks competition among buyers could push Northern Virginia home prices up by 4 percent to 8 percent in 2013.

His question to would-be home buyers: “With prices and interest rates where they are, if you have been thinking about buying a home and haven’t done it yet, what are you waiting for?”

“Next year is going to start out fast,” Mr. Rathgeber said. “I can already feel it picking up, which is unusual for the end of December.”

Whether next year’s market really gets under way in January or February depends a lot on the weather. Months with significant snowfall usually see a corresponding drop in real estate activity.

Regardless, if you plan to sell a home, you need to “get your home on the market by February at the latest,” Mr. Rathgeber said. “Because March is the best month for resale homes.”

Every year, Washington-area buyers are most active in March, April and May. The number of homes for sale also increases during those months, but not as much as the buying activity. As a result, buyers are forced to compete more in the spring than at any other point of the year. This causes home prices to go up the most in those months because a buyer often is willing to pay more when he knows others are trying to buy the same home.

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