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Charting the Market: Fairfax has top resale market

- - Thursday, November 15, 2012

When comparing sales on the Maryland and Virginia sides of the Washington region, it's not a surprise that more sales occurred in Fairfax County than anywhere else. Fairfax is the region's largest housing market, with 408,000 housing units in 2010, according to the U.S. Census. So it make sense that 18 percent of this year's sales would go to Fairfax County.

However, Montgomery County has 376,000 housing units and only 13 percent of the region's sales this year. Prince George's County has fewer units at 328,000, but captured 14 percent of area sales -- more than Montgomery.

Clearly, then, the number of homes in a county does not necessarily determine the number of sales you'll find there. If you add up the total number of homes in the six Virginia jurisdictions in today's charts, you'll get 872,000. The six Maryland jurisdictions have 1,171,000 units -- 34 percent more than in Virginia.

Maryland has many more homes than the Virginia side of the Potomac, yet the two sides have seen nearly identical sales figures this year.

One reason is the painful decline in home prices that happened earlier in Virginia, which then attracted buyers. Prince William County was the lowest-priced jurisdiction in the Washington area three years ago. Prices there fell 47 percent during the real estate downturn. That painful experience caused buyers to flock to Prince William in droves, pushing up home sales and prices.

Steep price drops in Prince George's County have fueled a resurgence in sales there as well. Sales in Prince George's have nearly tripled since 2008, as buyers come running to purchase homes at half their previous price.

Still, a home sold in September in Prince George's County spent 82 days on the market before finding a buyer. Homes were selling faster in Prince William than anywhere in the region, at just 43 days. Most Virginia sales have been made in two months or less this year. Homes haven't sold that quickly since 2005.

Homes typically sell faster where sales chances are high. Sales chances are calculated by dividing a month's sales figures by the inventory on the last day of the month, resulting in a percentage. A figure below 20 percent indicates a buyer's market. Higher figures mean we're in a balanced market or a seller's market.

Chances were highest in Arlington in September. Other jurisdictions with high levels of buyer competition included Prince William and Prince George's counties and the District.

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