- - Thursday, March 8, 2012

Are home prices up or down? It depends on where you look, of course.

The S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index has reported that U.S. home prices fell 4 percent last year.

Now, that’s interesting and helpful if you are an economist or are concerned about how national real estate trends will affect the stock market.

If, however, you are buying or selling a home in the Washington area or simply wondering how much your current home is worth, you probably care more about regional data.

The Case-Shiller data shows that the Washington area is doing much better than most metropolitan areas. Prices in our region hit bottom in spring 2009 and have risen slowly since then, although they still fluctuate up and down from month to month.

Prices in Miami, Atlanta, Boston, New York and other cities have continued to fall, and it’s uncertain when they will bottom out.

So our region has fared better than those other cities.

The data in today’s column likely will be of even more interest because it shows median sales prices for individual jurisdictions in two ways.

The bar charts compare the median sales price for all the homes sold in 2011 versus the homes sold in 2010. 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. That can be seen in the fever chart, which shows monthly prices for five of our largest housing markets.

Looking at the bar charts, notice that we had three different “zones” last year. Northern Virginia and the District formed a “hot zone” where home prices rose 3 percent to 5 percent in 2011. That’s because those jurisdictions had good sales and low inventory.

Most of the Maryland jurisdictions, along with Virginia’s Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, form the “cool zone” where prices fell because of a backlog of unsold homes.

In between, we find Montgomery, Howard and Prince William counties, which held their ground last year.

Send email to csicks@gmail.com.

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