- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A year ago, I was writing about these same three counties in Maryland: Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel.

In February last year, these Maryland counties outside the Beltway were more popular with buyers than any Virginia market. That was surprising because inside-the-Beltway Northern Virginia for a long time had been the most competitive real estate market in the region.

However, homes in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria became very expensive during the seller’s market of 2000-05. Home prices shot up everywhere else, of course, but even after they did, homes in Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel were still $150,000 less expensive than those in Fairfax County.

That affordability is what made homes sell more readily in those Maryland counties than in Virginia last February. Sales chances back then were 33 percent in Charles County. That’s still a decent seller’s market.

(Sales chances are my way of measuring the level of competition in the real estate market. Dividing sales figures for the month by the inventory on the last day of the month results 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.)

In Alexandria last February, chances had fallen to 25 percent, which meant that buyers were beginning to gain an edge over sellers.

This February, things have shifted back in favor of Northern Virginia. Home prices fell there last year as a result of slowing sales, while prices rose in Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel.

Last month, chances were 31 percent in Arlington, but chances in Maryland had fallen as low as Frederick County’s 15 percent.

I don’t write any of this to disparage these Maryland counties. They are great places to live. However, this fact always seems to bear out: When the housing market slows, it slows first in the outlying counties. Their affordability will always make them attractive to a large segment of buyers, but homes there will sell more slowly and buyers will compete less.

Inside the Beltway, homes will almost always sell more quickly, simply because many people want to live as close to the city as they can afford.

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

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