- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

Nearly two years ago in the Jan. 12, 2007, issue, the Friday Home Guide surveyed homes in the Washington area that were listed for sale at $350,000. At that time, 57 of the 11,879 homes on the market were priced at that exact amount.

Times have changed. In early December of this year, 356 homes (including town homes, single-family homes, condominiums and co-ops) were listed at $350,000. That’s 356 out of 52,089 homes for sale within a 30-mile radius of Washington and listed on Realtor.com.

Not only are there more homes for sale today than there were in early 2007, but the median prices have dropped too. The national median price for an existing single-family home was listed by National Association of Realtors at $181,800 at the end of the third quarter in 2008. In the Washington metropolitan area, the median price for an existing single-family home is $332,700.

In 2007, the price of $350,000 was randomly chosen as a starting point for looking at what was on the market within the city limits and in the distant and close-in suburbs. Now, $350,000 is just above the local median price for an existing single-family home. In late 2006, the median price was $431,900.

Mortgage-qualification standards have tightened during the past two years, with few buyers now able to find a loan that doesn’t require a down payment. The income required to qualify for a $350,000 home purchase varies widely according to the credit score of the borrowers, how much money they have for a down payment and the amount of their other monthly debt obligations. A general rule of thumb is that consumers can spend two to three times their gross income on a home purchase. That means buyers would need an annual income of $117,000 to $175,000 to purchase a $350,000 home.

Among the most popular loans at the moment are Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, which require a down payment of just 3 percent. For a $350,000 home, this would mean a down payment of $10,500. Closing costs are additional and vary from state to state.

Realtor Patricia Darneille of Century 21 New Millennium Inc. in Arlington says, “A lot of the buyers I work with are trying to get conventional 30-year fixed-rate loans and, typically, they would like to make a down payment of 20 percent, which in this case would be $70,000. That can be a difficult sum to come up with, especially for younger, first-time homebuyers.”

Most homebuyers will naturally search for a home within a range of prices, understanding that even a seemingly significant difference of $10,000 in price, when spread across a 30-year loan, will be minimal in terms of the monthly payments. For the purpose of this survey, here is a random look at some of the different types of homes that can be purchased for $350,000.

For buyers looking for elegance, a prime location in Northwest Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood, where the neighbors are mostly ambassadors and their families, $350,000 will buy a one-bedroom, one-bath cooperative apartment with about 750 square feet. In addition to the appeal of living in the heart of one of Washington’s most sought-after neighborhoods, this home has 9-foot-high ceilings, hardwood floors, built-in bookcases and a galley-style kitchen with a gas range and oven and a built-in microwave. This home is listed by Joe Himali of Best Address Real Estate.

On the opposite side of town on Capitol Hill, a two-bedroom, one-bath town house is available for $350,000 at 233 17th St. SE. Realtor Debora Jones of Century 21 New Millennium says the home has about 1,000 finished square feet, with off-street parking in the back of the house, along with a backyard and a front yard with trees and springtime flowers. The brick home has hardwood floors and gas radiator heat.

“This house is in the Hill East neighborhood, a great location just two blocks west of the Stadium/Armory Metro station,” says Ms. Jones. “The neighborhood is close to shopping at the Eastern Market and Harris Teeter, and not far from Lincoln Park.”

Potential buyers looking for a little more space may want to consider looking in Columbia, a planned community in Howard County with plenty of recreational amenities, libraries, shopping centers and entertainment. A single-family home at 9078 Flamepool Way with 2,142 finished square feet was recently on the market for $350,000. Realtor John Toner of Providence Real Estate in Columbia and his wife purchased the property, which was structurally sound but had been empty for two years and needed significant work to make it attractive to buyers.

“We bought it very inexpensively and spent about $65,000 replacing the siding and the windows, added a new finished basement and upgraded the kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite counters, plus we put in Brazilian cherry floors and upgraded carpet,” says Mr. Toner. “We used what we call ‘drama pricing’ to bring in buyers. If you don’t grab the buyers right away with a great house at a great price, they will just say ‘next.’”

After three weeks on the market, this Columbia home was under contract.

“This house sold because everything in it is new, but we also followed our own advice,” says Mr. Toner. “This market is both a price war and a beauty contest. A home will sell if you can hit the target price, so we always list our homes at a $50,000 or $100,000 point so that the computer will pick it up and catch the floor and the ceiling of buyer’s price ranges.”

In Hyattsville, buyers can find a single-family home on nearly one-half acre priced at $350,000. The two-story home at 6695 Old Landover Road, built in 1924, has five bedrooms, three full baths, gas heat and hardwood floors. Realtor Ted Megginson of GMAC Real Estate says that the home is in good condition and has been on the market for about two months.

In close-in Arlington, buyers will find smaller homes in this price range.

At $350,000, Ms. Darneille is listing a one-bedroom, one-bath condominium in the Westview at Ballston at 1024 N. Utah St. in Arlington. This ninth-floor home has about 700 square feet and a condominium fee of $285 per month.

“The Ballston area is very desirable because of the location near Metro, shops and restaurants, which adds value to the home,” says Ms. Darneille. “The Westview is a nice building, just two blocks from the Ballston Metro station, with a beautiful rooftop swimming pool. This home has been completely redone with hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and granite counters.”

Ms. Darneille says that recently she was working with buyers looking for a condominium priced near $350,000 and found more than 200 listings in Arlington.

“It’s very interesting how the prices rise the closer you are to a Metro station,” says Ms. Darneille. “A lot of the homes priced under $350,000 required a bus ride to get to a Metro station. The prices also go up by floor in high-rise condominiums.”

Not far away in Alexandria’s Huntley Meadows community, buyers can find a little more space for $350,000. The town home at 7616 Audubon Meadow Way in Alexandria has three finished levels with a brick and siding exterior and a one-car garage.

Realtor Casey O’Neal with RE/MAX Allegiance, says that while the property is a bank-owned foreclosure, it is in good condition and is only four years old. The three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath home has 9-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, a study, a finished basement and a master bedroom suite with a luxury master bath with a soaking tub and a separate shower. The community includes a swimming pool and is close to commuter routes and shopping centers.

An abundance of homes are available priced close to $350,000 now that the real estate market has slowed and home values have dropped. Buyers looking in this price range just need to decide if they want to live in an urban condominium or town home or spread out with a larger single-family home farther from downtown.

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