- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

If you reverse the order of the first three digits in the famous 90210 ZIP code, you get 20910 - a local Silver Spring ZIP code. While it’s nowhere near Beverly Hills, 20910 is one of the most popular ZIP codes considered by prospective homebuyers in the Washington metropolitan area.

The five numbers that comprise a main ZIP code can play an important role in determining a home’s value. Close to 20 percent of the homeowners surveyed for the 2008 Coldwell Banker Previews International Luxury Survey said that they have considered moving expressly to obtain a certain ZIP code or address.

While ZIP codes can be a determining factor in where some folks call home, Realtors say that average homebuyers don’t necessarily specify a desired location by the ZIP code.

“Buyers generally describe where they want to live using other language,” said Patricia Vucich of RE/MAX Realty Services in Bethesda.

For example, she said buyers may specify “near Metro, “close in,” or “upper Northwest.”

Since some buyers can be vague about where they want to live, Ms. Vucich asks questions and uses a map to help pinpoint an acceptable area to search for a home. She said that when buyers specify “close in” or downtown Silver Spring, they often end up looking in the popular 20910 ZIP code that contains neighborhoods like Woodside, Sligo Park Hills, Forest Glen, Capitol View Park, Blair and Rock Creek Forest.

According to Ms. Vucich, the 20910 ZIP code is desirable because it has two Metro stations, shopping, entertainment, Sligo Creek Park and good public schools.

Other ZIP codes that attract interest in Maryland are the high-end ZIP codes of 20814, the residential section of Bethesda, and 20815 in Chevy Chase. The recent sales median value in ZIP code 20815 is $1,985,000, according to www.eppraisal.com, a Web site that provides homes values, neighborhood information and market analysis for consumers.

While she’s uncertain if ZIP codes truly influence the value of real estate, Ms. Vucich said that they certainly represent a difference in price. “For instance, the least expensive detached house currently for sale in ZIP 20878 (Gaithersburg, North Potomac) is priced at $279,900. In 20814 (Bethesda), the least expensive home is priced at $495,000,” said Ms. Vucich.

Pat Dowtin of Coldwell Residential Brokerage in Camp Springs said that the ZIP code is important, but not as important as the prestige and amenities offered in a particular neighborhood within a ZIP code.

For example, Ms. Dowtin said that Woodmore, Woodmore South and Lake Arbor all share the same 20721 ZIP code in the Mitchellville and Bowie area. However, she explains that Woodmore commands the highest price because it is a gated community with large, custom-built mansions and a golf course. Woodmore South, directly across the street, offers smaller mansions at a lower price because the community doesn’t have a golf course and isn’t gated. Lake Arbor, on the other hand, has a golf course, but the homes aren’t as big, so they sell for a lower price than the other two communities in the same ZIP code.

Linda Simpson, board president of the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, said that she has not had many purchasers refer to ZIP codes.

“There are some areas that are preferred in the county,” said Ms. Simpson, adding that buyers often refer to subdivisions or a city.

“The ZIP code is a part of the puzzle,” said Jill Landsman of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR), “but by no means is it the dominant piece.”

Ms. Landsman said when people explain what they are looking for in a neighborhood, they care about things like the school system, religious affiliations and nearby family or friends.

“Some ZIPs are pretty prestigious. People want to live in McLean or Great Falls, and they want those ZIP codes,” said Ms. Landsman. “But there are homes in Herndon that look like McLean homes. You can have great and not-so-great homes in the same area.”

One of the top performing ZIP codes in Northern Virginia is 22043 in Falls Church (includes some of Fairfax). Homeowners in this ZIP code saw a 46 percent appreciation in their homes this January compared to January 2008. According to the Eppraisal Web site, the recent sales median value is $445,000 for that particular ZIP code.

Eric Schwartz of Annapolis, a certified general appraiser and national board member of the Appraisal Institute, has been appraising homes for 30 years. He said that 21401 and 21405 are some of the high-end ZIP codes in Anne Arundel County.

However, he said that it’s not the ZIP code that drives up the price and value of properties. Instead, it is the quality of the properties within a ZIP code drive up the value. He’s noticed a trend in revitalized urban areas where values have increased in certain ZIP codes because of new mixed-use developments.

“We can break data down by ZIP codes and get averages, but the average is a range and it’s important to remember that there can be a wide range that varies from block to block,” Mr. Schwartz said. He said that when appraising individual homes, he has to take into consideration things like proximity to freeways, parks or schools.

Experts say that homeowners located in ZIP codes that have high crime numbers, a lot of foreclosures or poor performing public schools can also expect lower home values.

The good news is that the same rule applies in reverse. Mr. Schwartz said that when home values increase in a particular area, everyone reaps the benefits.

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