N.Va. real estate, September 2018

Home sales across Northern Virginia may be trending lower than 2017 figures, but local real-estate leaders say a strong last quarter of the year could change that around.

“By year’s end, we expect sales activity to be on a level with last year’s,” said Ryan Conrad, CEO of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. “Since our region continues to add jobs, this is driving up local housing demand. Due to new-construction declines, we see upward pressure on resales.”

His remarks came after a relatively ugly month of September, sales-wise, for the Northern Virginia market. A total of 1,427 properties went to closing across the region, down nearly 12 percent from a year before, according to RealEstate Business Intelligence, based on data from Bright MLS.

While the city of Alexandria recorded a year-over-year increase in sales, the other localities in the report – Arlington and Fairfax counties and Falls Church and Fairfax cities – saw double-digit declines.

Despite the drop in sales, average prices continue to rise, with year-over-year rates up 4.5 percent to $792,199 in the single-family sector; up 3.5 percent to $427,281 in the attached (townhouse/rowhouse) segment; and up 5.4 percent to $354,226 in the condominium market.

Add it all up, and the average sales price of $573,555 for September was up 3.6 percent from a year before.

Regionally, average prices were up in Fairfax County and Alexandria and down slightly in Arlington. Because Falls Church and the city of Fairfax have relatively few sales in any given month, swings in their prices largely are discounted as bellwethers.

Though inventory remains tight, buyers are not rushing to pull the trigger to purchase right now, said Gary Lange, managing broker of the Vienna office of Weichert, Realtors.

“Buyers are looking for move-in-ready homes with all the bells and whistles,” Lange said. “If a home isn’t in tip-top shape, it is sitting. Sellers are trying to get top spring-market prices, and that just isn’t going to happen in fall and winter months. Sellers need to temper their expectations and be willing to do necessary updates to compel buyers to look at their property as ‘the home of choice.’”

If they can’t do that, they need to lower their price, Lange said.

With those caveats taken into account, Northern Virginia sellers “remain in the driver’s seat,” said Lorraine Arora NVAR’s board chairman, who agreed that sellers need to ensure their properties are ready for market before they hit the multiple-listing service.

“Despite the volatility in the stock market and Federal Reserve decisions, homes that are priced and show well are selling,” Arora said. “Today’s consumers are savvy and know what they like and do not like and are willing to pay.”

September generally marks the demarcation line between the busier spring/summer sales season and the more languid autumn/winter market in Northern Virginia. Both sales and average prices tend to cool as the temperature does.

But there was good news coming out of the September figures, as the average number of days on the market spent by homes that sold during the month improved to 36 this September from 42 in September 2017. Sellers also garnered a slightly larger percentage of asking price (97.7 percent compared to 97.6 percent) than a year ago.

Inventory continues to tighten compared to earlier in the year. At the end of September, there were 4,136 active listings on the market, down 9.3 percent from 4,561 a year before.

In order to fulfill prophecies of a better-than-2017 result for 2018, the market will need to outperform expectations in October, November and December. But with both the number of homes coming under contract and the number of pending sales in September being lower than the same point last year, that may be a stretch.

Figures represent most, but not all, homes on the market. All figures are preliminary and are subject to revision.

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