- - Thursday, February 23, 2012

Due to a very low inventory of available homes in the Washington area, January was one of the best months to sell a home in a long time.

Just 18,836 existing homes were listed as available in the Realtors’ database on Jan. 31. That’s a drop of 22 percent compared to January 2011, and it was the lowest inventory figure we have seen - for any month - since 2005.

Despite such slim pickings, area buyers contracted to purchase 6,373 homes last month, up 4 percent from January 2011.

This combination of factors - rising sales and falling inventory - is exactly what you want to see in a recovering real estate market. When taken together, last month’s sales and inventory figures give us a sales-chance percentage of 34 percent - the highest since March 2011 and the most competitive January we’ve seen in seven years.

Sales chances, by the way, are calculated by dividing a month’s sales figures by the inventory on the last day of the month, resulting in a percentage. A figure below 20 percent indicates a buyer’s market. Higher figures mean we’re in a balanced market or a seller’s market.

Chances were highest in Virginia, especially in Arlington, Prince William County and Manassas. Manassas and Manassas Park City continue to be the most competitive markets in the entire Baltimore-Washington region. They are seller’s markets for sure.

Because buyers are battling one another more aggressively in those Virginia jurisdictions, the homes sold there spend less time on the market. You can see that homes sold in Maryland’s Frederick County last month had been on the market for twice as long as those sold in Virginia’s Loudoun County. Homes sold in Manassas and Manassas Park City took just 50 days to sell.

Maryland’s hottest markets are still Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which are popular with buyers because they are near the jobs. Prince George’s, in particular, has really taken off recently as buyers are drawn by the affordability of homes there.

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