Wednesday, April 12, 2006

At this time last year, the Virginia suburbs were a busy place. The affordability of homes in such counties as Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania drew flocks of eager buyers.

Sales chances were high, and time on the market was low. It was a fast-moving market.

That has all changed, however.

Now that the market has cooled off, these suburbs outside the Beltway are some of the least popular communities among buyers.

Last month, sales chances were down to 19 or 20 percent in these three counties. By comparison, chances were 125 percent in Stafford County in March 2005.

Sales chances are my way of measuring the level of competition in the real estate market. Dividing sales figures for the month by the inventory on the last day of the month results 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.

The fierce competition last year caused home prices to skyrocket. The median sales price in Stafford County was up $120,000 in March of last year. Last month, when competition among buyers was much lower, prices were up only $20,000.

This is good news for buyers. The popularity of these communities was becoming rather discouraging for area home buyers, who thought making the drive all the way to Spotsylvania County should have made home buying easy and affordable last year.

Instead, many buyers continued driving to Fauquier County or King George County to find the real deals.

Now, Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania are becoming attractive options again, with homes selling slowly, prices leveling off and plenty of inventory to choose from.

Prince William County, for example, has an abundance of homes for buyers. Last month, buyers had more than 4,400 homes to look at on a given day, compared to fewer than a 1,000 in March 2005.

Also helping buyers is the slow pace of home sales. On average, properties sold in Prince William County last month had been on the market for more than two months. A year ago, homes there sold in an average of three weeks.

Contact Chris Sicks by e-mail (

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