- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

Washington-area home sales were up by 5 percent in March, which is a bigger deal than you might think.

Contracts were ratified on more than 8,900 existing homes last month, compared with about 8,500 in March 2010.

I’m honestly a little surprised that this year’s numbers beat those from a year ago. Remember, the federal homebuyer tax credits that ended April 30, 2010, generated a two-month sales boom in March and April last year. Buyers emerged from the snowstorms of February in large numbers and bought homes aggressively to seize the tax credits before they were gone.

Without thousands of dollars in free money to motivate buyers, it is rather surprising that this March outsold March 2010 by 5 percent. It is a clear indication that the housing market is continuing to improve in the Washington area.

As always, however, the regional data conceals significant differences among individual jurisdictions. Sales in the District were down 6 percent last month. Montgomery County was down 3 percent, and Fairfax County sales were down 2 percent compared with March 2010.

Yet sales were up 27 percent in Prince George’s and Spotsylvania counties and 10 percent in both Anne Arundel and Stafford counties.

Despite those sales increases in some Virginia counties, if you compare the Maryland and Virginia portions of the metro area, you find that Maryland sales were up 12 percent while Virginia sales were flat.

I already mentioned being somewhat surprised that this March did so well compared with last year. Although it is encouraging to see, I remain hesitant about this month’s sales, considering that sales hit nearly 10,000 in April 2010. Just look at the bottom chart to see what an unusual spike that was.

Let me say now that if sales exceed 9,000 this month, we can consider it a strong sales month regardless of how it compares with April 2010.

The best assessment of the 2011 market will be possible in July, when we have complete data for the first half of the year.

Based on what we have seen in the first quarter, I would bet that total sales for the first two quarters of 2011 will beat 2010 by 10 percent.

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