- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

You may have read that home prices fell in 2010. But did they? Not in much of the Washington area. Would you believe that home prices rose 20 percent in one county in Virginia last year?

It’s true. You see, whenever you hear news about real estate, it’s critical that you know what area is being discussed.

Nationwide, home prices were down 4.1 percent in the last quarter of 2010, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

But what does that mean for you and me? I’m not selling all the houses in the United States. And you’re not even interested in home prices for the entire state of Virginia or Maryland, are you?

That’s why today’s charts take a look at median sales prices for individual jurisdictions in two different ways.

The bar charts compare the median sales price for all the homes sold in 2010 versus the homes sold in 2009. Studying annual figures is a more accurate way of looking at home prices, because monthly data tends to jump up and down a bit as different kinds of homes sell each month.

What we see is encouraging, especially in Virginia. Prices rose there last year because buyer competition was up for a reduced pool of properties.

While the annual data is the best way to get an overall picture of what happened to housing prices in a given year, it also can conceal movement in prices during that year.

That’s why I’ve included a fever chart showing median prices over the past three years. You can see that in 2008 the area suffered a significant drop in median sales prices.

Prices began to improve in 2009 in the District and much of Northern Virginia. That’s because the drop in prices in 2008 stimulated sales activity, which then caused prices to stabilize and even rise in 2009 and 2010.

Some Maryland counties haven’t see as significant an increase in sales activity, so prices have lagged in Charles, Frederick, Baltimore and Prince George’s.

But we learned from Prince William County that buyers will be drawn back to an area once prices fall far enough. Perhaps 2011 is the year that those Maryland counties will see the kind of rebound many Virginia counties already have enjoyed.

Send e-mail to csicks@gmail.com.

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