- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

They aren’t the biggest or the hottest, but three Maryland counties outside the Beltway are attractive options for home buyers weary of the region’s high-priced real estate market.

To the north, Frederick County; to the east, Anne Arundel County; and to the south, Charles County. Although they aren’t immediate neighbors, these three real estate markets share some characteristics of which home buyers are taking note.

When the median home price is $350,000 in the District and $410,000 in Arlington, many would-be buyers need to make this decision: Instead of the three-bedroom single-family house in Arlington you’ve dreamed of, choose between a two-bedroom condo in Arlington or a commute from Frederick County.

It’s not an easy decision, especially if you have children, a dog or a lot of stuff, but high prices inside the Beltway are forcing buyers to make such choices.

Many are opting for the drive. During the past five years, Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel counties have generally seen sales rise and the inventory of homes for sale fall.

Prices remain affordable, however. Compare Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel to their Virginia counterparts: Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.

These jurisdictions also lie outside the Beltway, offering buyers single-family homes on decent-size lots. Yet prices in Prince William and Stafford are now close to $300,000. That’s $50,000 more than the median in Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel counties. Spotsylvania’s median price is comparable at around $250,000.

Despite this level of affordability, it remains easier to buy a home on the Maryland side of the river. Sales chances in Prince William County were 95 in December, compared with less than 50 in Frederick and Charles.

(Sales chances are a measure of market activity calculated by dividing home sales by inventory. The market tends to favor buyers when sales chances are less than 15 percent. When chances are greater than 20 percent, it is a seller’s market.)

If our market continues to favor sellers as strongly as it has the past several years, the pressure on buyers will force them to make that same tough decision: condo or commute. During the rest of 2005, I expect to see buyers fighting more fiercely for homes in these three Maryland counties.

Contact Chris Sicks by e-mail ([email protected]).

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