Friday, August 22, 2008

Supply and demand are fundamental laws that affect housing as much as they affect oil prices. Ever since folks started selling homes en masse late in 2005, the number of properties for sale has been a drag on the housing market.

All year, the Washington region has been groaning under the weight of about 50,000 unsold homes. Compare that to about 15,000 just a few years ago.

Due to lackluster sales activity, would-be sellers have been forced to drop their prices to find buyers. That lowers the market value of all the other homes on the block, much to the frustration of one’s neighbors.

Fortunately, the surplus of unsold homes fell just a bit last month, and sales rose very slightly. That’s what we want to see happen to those statistics - a smaller inventory and stronger sales. When we see those statistics moving like that consistently, we will be able to say the market is getting better.

At the end of last month, there were 50,290 homes available on the market. One reason there were fewer homes in the inventory than in June was the decrease in the number of additional homes coming on the market.

About 12,500 homes were listed with area Realtors in July. That’s less than we’ve seen all year, and it is the lowest number of listings in July since 2002.

Compared to July 2007, new listings were down by 12 percent. They fell even more sharply in some places. In Loudoun and Spotsylvania counties, listings were 24 percent lower than a year ago. Listings were down by 18 percent in Charles and 19 percent in Howard.

Of course, with fewer first-time buyers than there were during the 2000-2005 housing boom, most buyers are also sellers these days. So, unless we see an unexpected population surge from outside the area, we will most often see one home listed for each home sold.

*C ontact Chris Sicks by e-mail (

The statistics in this story reflect a metropolitan area that includes the Maryland counties of Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Howard, Charles and Frederick; the Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford; the city of Alexandria; and the District.

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