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[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

Average home-sales prices across Northern Virginia reached an all-time high in 2020, and total sales volume was second only to the pre-recession boom of 2005, as the market shrugged off COVID and the resulting government-imposed lockdown to see its first year-over-year sales increase since 2017.

A total of 22,840 properties went to closing during the year, according to preliminary results reported Jan. 12 by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and MarketStats by Showing Time.

The total represents an increase of 3.7 percent from 2019, following two years of modest sales declines of 1.8 percent and 0.5 percent.

(Figures represent transactions in Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church, as analyzed by the Sun Gazette, and may differ from totals reported elsewhere. They count all types of housing – single-family; townhouses/rowhouses; and condominiums.)

Sales were up in two of the three segments of the market:

• Sales of single-family homes totaled 10,267 up 3.2 percent from a year before.

• Sales of attached homes, such as townhouses and rowhouses, were up 4 percent to 12,571.

• Sales of condominiums were down 4.5 percent to 6,379.

The average sales price of $670,408 for the year was up 9.2 percent from $614,236 a year before and up for the fifth year in a row. The 2020 figure marked the highest one-year increase since housing prices rose by nearly 22 percent in both 2004 and 2005 – the years of the real-estate bubble that was to burst with catastrophic national results shortly thereafter.

(Analysts suggest that the market of 2020 is fundamentally different from the pre-2008 bubble, and that rising prices are in line with supply and demand rather than the questionable lending policies that helped fuel that earlier meltdown.)

For the year just concluded, the average sales price of single-family homes was up 9.2 percent to $898,556; the average sales price of attached homes was up 9.4 percent to $484,192; and the average price of condominiums was up 9.7 percent to $392,445.

A total of 2,852 – or about 12.5 percent of  total sales – garnered more than $1 million, including 123 selling for more than $2.5 million and 13 for more than $5 million.

Add up the sales and prices, and the $15.3 billion in sales volume recorded in 2020 was up from $13.6  billion a year before and second only to the $15.7 billion of 2005.

Conventional mortgages accounted for the method of transacting 16,537 sales, followed by VA-backed loans (2,742), cash (2,303) and FHA-backed mortgages (734). Homes that sold during the year garnered 99.9 percent of original listing price, up from 99.1 percent a year before, and spent an average of 19 days on the market between listing and ratified sales contract, an improvement from the 24 days required in 2019.

In the 46 years – 1975 to 2020 – charted by the Sun Gazette, the average sales price across Northern Virginia has risen 1,141 percent while riding waves of inflation and increasing regional affluence.

Over the 46 years the Sun Gazette has kept records, yearly sales have ranged from a low of 13,783 in 1995 to a high of 32,735 in 2004.

But it has been a roller-coaster ride. Year-over-year average prices have risen 27 years, declined another 18. The longest consecutive winning streak came during the nine-year period from 1996 to 2004, where sales progressively rose from 13,783 to 32,735, in part because large swaths of Fairfax County were being used to build new housing.

The longest losing streak in sales came during a four-year stretch from 2005 to 2008, where sales dipped from the 32,735 reported in 2004 down to 17,400 before rebounding in 2009 (although sales were then again down in 2010 and 2011 before a more robust turnaround arrived).

Average sales prices have seen significantly more up years than down, including streaks of 14 years in a row from 1976 to 1989 and, following a relatively mild 1990-91 recession, another 15 years in a row of increasing average sales from 1993 to 2007. However, for a number of the years in that latter run, the average price of appreciation barely, if at all.

Total Northern Virginia sales volume first exceeded $1 billion in 1978; reached $2 billion in 1986 and $3 billion a year later. It took until 1998 for it to surpass $5 billion and another five years to hit $10 billion. Over the past 46 years, it has stood at more than $10 billion 12 times – from 2003-06 and from 2013 to the present.

While it’s impossible to provide an apples-to-apples comparison unless one was to pick a specific house (discounting any subsequent upgrades) and track its sales data through the decades, the rate of housing appreciation in the local area seems to have significantly outperformed national inflation.

A home that sold in the local region for the average $58,739 in 1975 and appreciated by the cumulative U.S. inflation rate of 383.7 percent through 2020 would be worth $284,199 today – less than 43 percent the average sales price of last year.


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