- - Thursday, January 19, 2012

Last year’s real estate market came to a fairly quiet close, with 5,259 sales contracts signed in the Washington area — almost exactly what we saw in December 2010.

Still, it was a good year for sales activity. Buyers and sellers ratified sales contracts on more than 86,000 homes in 2011, an increase of 14 percent over 2010 and the highest total since 2006.

Not all of those contracts actually go to settlement, of course. Sometimes a deal falls through because of things found during the home inspection, or the buyer can’t get a loan or — in the case of a foreclosure or short sale - the bank doesn’t approve the sale.

The increase in short-sale and foreclosure activity in recent years may be one reason settlements were so much lower than contracts in 2011. Just 65,314 homes went to settlement last year, which might mean that about 23,000 contracts fell through for one reason or another. It’s a high number, so I’m doing some research and will tell you more in a future column.

Homes that sold in December (by “sold” I am referring to contracts, not settlements) spent longer on the market than they had in the previous eight months.

Take the region’s largest homes market, Fairfax County. Homes sold there in December had been on the market for an average of 68 days before a sales contract was ratified. But homes sold there in June took just 44 days to sell.

You can see in today’s charts that Maryland outsold Virginia in December. Virginia got beat in total sales for the year, too. Maryland sales were higher by 500 contracts, quite a reversal from 2008, when Virginia beat Maryland by 15,000 sales.

It’s rare for Maryland sales to be higher in annual totals. The only other time it happened in the past decade was in 2006, when the housing boom came to an abrupt halt that initially struck harder in Virginia than it did in Maryland.

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