- - Thursday, April 5, 2012

It’s tough being a homebuilder these days. Only 8,328 new homes were sold in the Washington area in 2011, a drop of 14 percent compared with 2010.

I have been maintaining records of area home sales for a long time. My new-homes data goes back to 1991, when more than 25,000 new houses were sold around here. In 1999, sales climbed to more than 30,000.

We’ve had a difficult journey since then. Existing homes and new homes alike were hit by the housing meltdown that began in the fall of 2005.

Of course, this real estate crisis is not the only reason new-home sales have fallen since 1999. Available land near the Capital Beltway has become increasingly scarce, and without land you can’t build a new home. (Unless you tear down an older home, which is a small portion of building activity.)

Still, as recently as 2007, 16,500 new houses were sold in the area. Builders found enough land then to build and sell twice as many homes as they did in 2011.

Although there always will be folks who want, and can afford, a new house, budget-conscious buyers typically prefer to buy their homes used.

Area builders are doing quite well in part of Virginia: Loudoun County, which became the region’s largest new-home market last year. Sales in Loudoun were up 28 percent last year, while sales in nearby Prince William County fell 30 percent.

Perhaps because of the strong market in Loudoun, the median price per square foot for the new houses sold there was up 16 percent last year, to $173.

Other than Loudoun County, the only jurisdiction to experience an increase in new-home sales last year was the District, where sales rose 16 percent over 2010. A square foot of a new house in the District cost $405 last year, yet the nation’s capital has enjoyed a strong recovery in both the new and used housing markets.

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