- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2010

A few months ago, I wrote that 2010 was on track to be the worst year for Washington’s home builders in at least two decades. I’m afraid things haven’t improved.

Even record-low mortgage interest rates are not enough to motivate buyers these days, and many of the buyers who are out there shopping for homes are looking for bargains. Foreclosures and short sales are all the rage, even though buying one isn’t easy.

In this kind of real estate climate, home builders have their work cut out for them. Nonetheless, more than 5,000 new homes were sold during the first half of the year. No matter how tough things get, there always will be a segment of homebuyers who want to buy new.

It’s just that there were a lot more of them five years ago. More than 10,000 new homes were sold in the first half of 2006, and in 1999, more than 17,000 were sold from January to June.

Sales have declined the most in the areas you’d expect: close-in communities with less available land. During the first half of 2006, 1,400 new homes were sold in Fairfax County - half as many as in 1999. This year, just 189 have been sold there.

The available land in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria is expensive, which is why the price of new homes in Northern Virginia is so high.

Prices aren’t as high in the District, which has even less land for new homes. Median home prices are lower in the District because condos make up two-thirds of new-home sales there, and town homes account for almost all the rest.

In fact, you actually pay more per square foot in the District than anywhere in the region. Consider this: The median price for a square foot of new home in the District was $458 during the first half of 2010, compared to $237 in Fairfax County and $128 in Charles County.

Send e-mail to csicks@gmail.com.

The metro area 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, Va.; and the District.

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