- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

Was 2008 a good year or a bad one for Washington-area home sales? It depends on how you look at the numbers.

If you want to put the most positive spin on the numbers, you can focus on the fact that total sales of existing homes were up 5 percent over 2007. This could indicate that 2007 was the worst part of the real estate downturn, and it will only get better. So maybe 2008 was a great year and the beginning of the recovery.

If you compare 2008 sales to previous years, however, you’ll find that it was not a great market for home sellers at all. Sales were higher in every year from 1999 to 2006. Compared to 2004’s total sales of 129,319, last year’s sales were down by 39 percent.

Still, if you insist upon looking for silver linings, you can focus on Virginia sales. With more than 44,000 resales last year, the Virginia suburbs enjoyed a sales surge of 35 percent. Even jurisdictions that are well outside the Beltway, such as Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, saw sales rise by 13 and 23 percent, respectively.

Maryland, on the other hand, experienced a 17 percent drop in sales last year. Montgomery fared better than the rest, with sales that were 8 percent below 2007’s total.

Another sobering statistic is home prices. Median sales prices were down last year in every jurisdiction. Even in jurisdictions where sales were up, prices fell.

In fact, it seems that a large drop in prices could actually bring on a burst of sales activity. December prices were down 26 percent in Fairfax County, and 2008 sales rose 55 percent. December prices fell 47 percent in Prince William, and 2008 sales rose 127 percent.

In Howard County, prices were only down 8 percent last month, and 2008 sales were down by 20 percent. Prices fell by 6 percent in Charles County, and sales dropped 28 percent.

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

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