Friday, February 8, 2008

Talking with friends last week, I remarked that they were going to have a relatively easy time selling their home. They were surprised, considering how dramatically the housing market has slowed in the Washington metropolitan region.

The thing is, they are selling a home in Arlington, and possibly buying in Fairfax. That’s a good combination.

Although it is much harder to sell a home today than it was three years ago, it’s easier to sell a home in Arlington than anywhere else in the region. Again, I didn’t say it’s easy, but easier than in other places.

That’s because sales chances in December were 16 percent in Arlington.

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.

Chances are also relatively high in Alexandria. “Relatively” is an important word because three years ago the chances in Arlington and Alexandria exceeded 100 percent — which was possible because homes were selling in less than a month and weren’t always captured in the monthly inventory figures.

Currently, sales chances are lower in Fairfax than in Arlington, which is why it’s good for my friends to buy in Fairfax County. They will find more selection and less competition from other buyers than they would in Arlington or Alexandria.

Of course, if you want a really easy shopping experience, drive a little farther to Prince William County, where chances were only 7 percent in December.

The location and easy access to the District have long made Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria popular with home buyers. Sure, traffic is still pretty bad, but significant improvements have resulted from the huge construction projects at the Mixing Bowl and Wilson Bridge. Also, the upcoming high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia could help things between Springfield and the American Legion Bridge.

While these three jurisdictions have experienced the same real estate slowdown as the rest of the region, they will recover more quickly and should experience less of an impact on home values than other parts of the metropolitan area.

Chris Sicks

Contact Chris Sicks by e-mail (

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