The 2019 Northern Virginia real estate market saw relatively flat sales but a new record average sales price, as total market volume rose to the third highest in the region’s history, according new figures and a Sun Gazette analysis of the data.
“Our Northern Virginia market finished strong,” says Nicholas Lagos, 2020 president of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR), in discussing data reported Jan. 16.
The 22,043 homes that went to closing in the year just gone by represented a decline of 0.5 percent from the 22,140 transactions in 2018, but still represented the third best performance since 2006, according to preliminary data from NVAR, MarketStats by ShowingTime and Bright MLS. Figures represent sales in Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax.
A still-constrained inventory for much of the year continued to push prices higher; the 2019 market saw an increase of 4 percent to an average price of $614,236, the first time the average has surpassed $600,000 and the ninth year in the past decade the year-over-year prices were up.
Adding up the sales and the prices, total market volume for the year was $13.6 billion, up from $13 billion in 2018 and the best total since the all-time record of $15.7 billion was set at the height of the real-estate bubble in 2005.
The two core components of the Sun Gazette coverage area, Fairfax and Arlington counties, had different outcomes for the year:
• Fairfax County posted 16,144 transactions for the year, up 2.9 percent. The average overall sales price was up 3.9 percent to a record $601,506, with the average price of a single-family property up 3 percent to $788,283. The resulting sales volume of $9.76 billion was up 7.6 percent from 2018.
• In Arlington, total sales were down 9.1 percent to 2,782, largely due to a lack of inventory. The average overall sales price, however, was up 6 percent to $700,641, with the average sales price of the single-family segment rising 5.6 percent to $1,079,751. Total sales volume was $1.95 billion, down 3.8 percent.
Enough about 2019: The question now becomes, where might the market be headed in 2020?
A forecast group representing NVAR Realtors, mortgage lenders and settlement professionals predicts slight year-over-year average sales increases in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria (1.1 percent, 0.3 percent and 3.5 percent respectively) by December 2020.
As lack of inventory will likely continue to be a challenge in Northern Virginia, the median sales price is expected to increase across all three jurisdictions that the forecast group analyzed.
“The regional economy this year is expected to show continued growth, similar to 2019,” NVAR CEO Ryan Conrad said. “Northern Virginia has been the region’s leader in job creation, and as Amazon and other local employers build their workforces in 2020, this should help sustain our strong Northern Virginia housing market.”
Looking back on more than 45 years of sales data from across the suburbs, the average price stood at $58,739 in 1975, surpassed the $100,000 mark for the first time in 1981, the $200,000 mark in 1991, the $300,000 mark in 2002 and the $400,000 mark in 2004 before peaking at just above $538,000 in 2007.
It then dropped for two years, to $431,018 in 2009, before starting another upward swing.
In the spirit of fun, here’s a trip down memory lane both at the state of the market and some of the local and national events that played a role in our lives:
1975: The average sales price is climbing close to the $60,000 mark, and more than 14,200 homes are sold in the local area. Interest rates, however, are on the rise, hovering at around 9 percent for a 30-year conventional loan. Nationally, Jerry Ford is in the White House, the Red Sox and Reds are in the World Series and NBC debuts “Saturday Night Live.”
1976: The nation’s bicentennial year is a good one for the local real estate market. Home sales increase 2.3 percent over a year before, and the average sales price is up 6.2 percent.
1977: Jimmy Carter takes the oath of office as president, Elvis “leaves the building” for the final time. The number of homes sold in Northern Virginia experiences 23-percent growth, and the average sales price is up 7 percent. The total sales volume in Northern Virginia passes the $1 billion mark for the first time.
1978: The Washington Bullets have their best year ever. “The White Shadow” and “WKRP in Cincinnati” make their TV debuts. Despite a slightly frosty economic environment across Virginia and the nation, home sales locally are up 27 percent, and the average sales price is up 7.4 percent.
1979: The Iran hostage drama begins, and John Wayne breathes his last. Irish terrorists kill Lord Mountbatten. The federal government bails out Chrysler, and interest rates start heading upward in a hurry. Nelson Rockefeller dies, creatively. The number of homes sold increases just a bit, but the average sales price is up 11.4 percent.
1980: Ronald Reagan wins a landslide victory over Jimmy Carter, Mount St. Helens blows its top, and the U.S. skips the Summer Olympics. The spike in interest rates take a chunk out of the sales market (down 15.3 percent), but average sales prices are up nearly 12 percent.
1981: Assassinations and attempted assassinations make for an ugly year. “Dallas” and “Dukes of Hazzard” provide some relief on TV. Actor Jack Albertson dies. Home sales drop precipitously, down 22.4 percent, but average sales prices show double-digit increases. The average sales price rises to more than $100,000 for the first time.
1982: The Equal Rights Amendment goes down to defeat. “Gandhi” sweeps the Oscars and Toto is tops at the Grammys. After peaking at nearly 18.5 percent, interest rates are slowly declining, but total home sales are still down 18 percent. Double-digit price increases are gone, too.
1983: “The Love Boat” is still bringing in the viewers, and Sally Ride makes history in space. The U.S. invades Grenada, surprising the British (who thought it was theirs), and Carolyn Jones of “The Addams Family” fame dies. Home sales are up a whopping 43.7 percent (biggest annual increase in our survey) and the average sales price increase slightly.
1984: Walter Mondale carries Massachusetts and D.C. in the presidential election, but Ronald Reagan wins everything else. “Amadeus” is boffo at the Academy Awards. And in the local real estate market, it is a quiet year, with sales up 1.2 percent and average prices up 2.5 percent.
1985: “Live Aid” brings music and humanitarianism together. Phil Collins can do no wrong in the music world, and Miss Utah is named Miss America. Interest rates are still high, at more than 12 percent, but sales rise a solid 23.9 percent. Average sales prices are up modestly, too.
1986: William Rehnquist is nominated chief justice, and the nation celebrates the first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Actress Donna Reed ascends the staircase to heaven. Home sales increase more than 20 percent, and the average sales price is up a respectable 7.8 percent.
1987: The Iran-Contra scandal dominates the headlines, followed by a stock market crash. U2’s music is the rage, Cher wins an Oscar and Sonny becomes mayor of Palm Springs. Mortgage interest rates drop to under 10 percent for the first time since 1979. But home sales plummet more than 11 percent, even as average sales prices are up 16.6 percent.
1988: Michael Dukakis tries but fails to win the presidency, but the effort provides a career boost to comedian Jon Lovitz. The federal government gives amnesty to 1.4 million illegal aliens. Roy Orbison and his shades go to the hippest corner of rock-and-roll heaven. Interest rates spike up briefly, but both home sales and average prices increase. The total sales volume surpasses $4 billion locally.
1989: The Exxon Valdez causes a mess in Alaska, and an earthquake strikes San Francisco. U.S. troops invade Panama and arrest Manuel Noriega. Ronald Reagan returns to California after eight years in the White House. Home sales drop 20 percent (totaling less than 20,000 for the first time since 1984), but average sales prices rise to nearly $175,000.
1990: Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and provokes President Bush into sending troops to Saudi Arabia. Joe Pesci wins an Oscar for “Goodfellas.” The Cincinnati Reds win the World Series. And while home sales are up 17.7 percent, the average sales price dropped for the first time in recent memory, down 0.2 percent.
1991: Coalition troops liberate Kuwait, and President Bush’s approval rating tops 90 percent. The Senate is busy debating the appointment of Clarence Thomas, while the House of Representatives is trying to explain why members bounced more than 8,000 checks at its bank. Home sales plummet more than 32 percent (worst drop in the survey), but sales prices rise 17.3 percent to more than $200,000.
1992: Bill Clinton wins the White House. Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” is a massive hit. Notre Dame tops Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and Barry Bonds is the National League’s MVP. Interest rates continue a slow decline. Home sales are up 6.7 percent, but average sales prices drop 1.1 percent.
1993: A bomb explodes under the World Trade Center. Janet Reno becomes the first female attorney general. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” becomes military policy. The world loses a classy lady with the death of Audrey Hepburn. Home sales drop 3.2 percent, but average sales prices rise 3.3 percent.
1994: NAFTA comes into being, baseball players go on strike, Aldrich Ames is arrested for spying, and Republicans take control of Congress. “Cats” is the Broadway musical that just won’t die. Dull year in real estate - home sales down slightly, average sales prices up a bit.
1995: A total of 168 people die in the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. Congress repeals the 55-mph speed limit. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tops the 5,000 mark. Mortgage money is available for about 9 percent. Home sales drop 12.5 percent, while average sales prices are up a bit. Total sales volume drops to $2.9 billion, lowest since 1985.
1996: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski is arrested, Cuba Gooding Jr. wins an Oscar and Atlanta hosts the Olympic Games. President Clinton wins 31 states and D.C. on the way to an easy re-election. Home sales are up 10.9 percent, and the average sales price are up 1.4 percent.
1997: Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the nation’s first female secretary of state. The Dow Jones average drops more than 550 points on Oct. 27, but rebounds the next day. Fashion mogul Gianni Versace is murdered. Home sales rise 9.8 percent, and average sales prices are up 3.2 percent to more than $220,000.
1998: “Titanic” sweeps the Oscars, and Americans learn of new uses for cigars as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal takes some unpleasant turns. Jerry Seinfeld leaves TV, Mark McGwire sets a new home-run record, and actor Jack (“Hawaii Five-O”) Lord dies. The real estate market swells, with average sales up 32.6 percent, average sales prices up 3.7 percent, and total volume surpassing $5 billion.
1999: Cable television continued to play a greater and greater role in our daily lives. Home sales were up slightly, with average home sales prices rising to nearly $240,000. A home mortgage could be found with an average interest rate of 7.8 percent.
2000: The presidential election essentially ends in a tie, another Summer Olympic Games comes and goes, and the Washington Redskins continue to find success elusive. Home sales rise 14.7 percent, the average sales price tops the quarter-million-dollar mark for the first time, and sales volume grows to $6.5 billion.
2001: More than 3,000 people die in terrorist bombings on Sept. 11, and the nation mobilizes for a new kind of war. While the economy suffers, the attacks don’t dampen Northern Virginia’s hot real estate market, with total sales rising 6.4 percent and the average sales price up 13 percent to $285,000. Total sales volume tops $7.9 billion.
2002: The Bush administration continues its planning to disrupt the “Axis of Evil,” and focuses on Iraq. The stock market begins to recover from its doldrums, but unemployment remains a concern. While home sales are up only slightly, the average sales price rises over $300,000 for the first time, and total sales volume is $8.9 billion.
2003: The war in Iraq seems to be going well, but cleaning up after the military victory proves to be a thorny and deadly task. Could it be: Red Sox vs. Cubs in the World Series? (Alas, no.) Home sales show no sign of slipping, with average prices also heading up considerably throughout the metropolitan area. Sales volume tops $10 billion for the first time.
2004: The insurgency in Iraq is all over the headlines, and becomes one of the focal points of the presidential campaign. While the national economy continues to struggle toward recovery, the local economy continues to roar along. Joe Gibbs gets off to a shaky start in his return to the Redskins, and baseball is finally set to return to D.C. RIP Rodney Dangerfield, Ronald Reagan, Julia Child and Isabel “Weezie” Sanford. The average home value continues to rise (up 21.8 percent), and sales are modestly up from a year before.
2005: All good things come to an end: Actor Eddie Albert joins Eva Gabor in a “Green Acres” heaven reunion. Chicken King Frank Perdue and civil rights icon Rosa Parks also die. The war in Iraq continues as the Bush administration enters its second term. On the real estate scene, the bull market of the past six years is coming to a close, although parts of the of local marketplace still showed spark. Sales volume tops $15 billion for the first time, but that will be the high-water mark for the local market.
2006: The war in Iraq drags on, the Redskins continue to disappoint and the local real estate market shows the effects of slowing sales and moderating prices. Long-term, the market has proven to be a success, but for those who bought at the height of the boom, there will be challenges if they need to sell their properties in the short term. Total sales volume drops to $11.1 billion, the first decline reported since 1999.
2007: The first few months of the year see the real estate market attempting to shake off the doldrums, with inventory not so high and prices seeming to hold steady. Hopes in the real estate industry that the market would sprout to life in spring prove unfounded, as the market continues to meander generally downward. The inner suburbs hold up the best, but by mid-year, even they are flat or declining. At the end of it all, home sales are down 13.1 percent from the year before, but – for the 15th year in a row – average home sales posted an increase.
2008: Economic calamity strikes the nation late in the year, brought on in large part by what had been the overheated real estate market. Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama battle it out for the presidency, and while the military surge in Iraq produces some results, there are plenty of other challenges facing U.S. foreign policy during the year. The newspaper industry continues to struggle. Sir Edmund Hillary, Charlton Heston, Jim McKay and Suzanne Pleshette die. Home sales across Northern Virginia are down about 4 percent, to the lowest point since 1996, and average sales prices plunges more than 14 percent, perhaps the largest drop ever in the local area.
2009: The economy remains the big story; it continues to wobble but doesn’t collapse. Meanwhile, the new Obama administration must decide what to do in Afghanistan, the latest military flashpoint. Terrorism rears its head at Christmastime, about the same time the local area is buried under a foot and a half of snow. Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon and Walter Cronkite die, and Redskins fans have almost nothing to cheer about except the arrival of yet another new coach. Home sales rebound, increasing 9.3 percent, but average sales prices are at their lowest point since 2003.
2010: Republicans grab back control of the U.S. House of Representatives, setting up a showdown with President Obama over the nation’s priorities. Meanwhile, the economic situation continues to wander along in the weeds, and while there is some progress in extricating U.S. forces from Iraq, Afghanistan continues to be a problem that seems to defy a solution. The local real estate market can’t seem to find its footing, although it is buoyed by federal tax credits that help a bit. Elizabeth Edwards, Gary Coleman, Lena Horne and Teddy Pendergrass were among those who left us. In the Northern Virginia area, home sales were down 6.2 percent from 2009 figures, although they were up compared to 2008. And the average sales price saw a rebound, up 8.9 percent to $469,018.
2011: The economy continues to stumble along, and the folks in Washington seemed more interested in brinksmanship than bipartisanship. The stock market teetered and tottered, and threats of a double-dip recession have loomed. The local real estate market continues to show both signs of progress (higher average sales prices) and areas of concern (anemic sales figures). But the full story won’t be known until January rolls around and the final figures are in.
2012: Presidential politics dominates the year, and voters in November return Barack Obama with a decisive but not overwhelming victory. Republicans lose seats in Congress. Economic conditions remain soft, while questions remain about the amount of U.S. debt. Whitney Houston, Neil Armstrong, Dick Clark and Andy Griffith were among those who died during the year, while Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian dominated gossip sites. “Honey Boo-Boo” became famous through cable TV. The Northern Virginia real estate market showed a rebound both in total sales (up 11.6 percent from a year before) and average sales price (up 4.4 percent and again over the half-million-dollar mark).
2013: The stock market rebounds, unemployment recedes a bit and more people are questioning why the rich got richer while everyone else didn’t during the economic rebound. President Obama’s approval ratings decline, in part to a botched rollout of his health-care package, but Republicans didn’t benefit much. A partial shutdown of the federal government served to reinforce the view of many that the nation’s leaders seemed to either not know, or not care, what they were doing. Virginians reversed course, electing Democrat Terry McAuliffe as governor – but Republicans kept their tight grip on control of the House of Delegates. Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Tom Clancy, James Gandolfini and Eydie Gorme were among those who left us. The local real estate market continued its rebound, with average prices in the inner suburbs of Northern Virginia setting a record at $540,043 and the number of sales surpassing the 20,000 mark for the first time since 2006.
2014: The search for a missing Malaysian airliner captivated cable-TV viewers during the year, and ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine led to a Malaysian aircraft being shot out of the sky. Racial tensions ranged from a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., to the remarks that cost an NBA owner his franchise. The economy seemed to be in two-steps-forward-one-back mode, while the potential that the Ebola virus might impact the U.S. was on the minds of many. Republicans cleaned up in the midterm elections, and prospective candidates for the 2016 presidential election started their preparations. Among those who left our midst during the year: Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Marion Barry Jr., Shirley Temple Black and Mickey Rooney. It was a relatively soft year for local real estate, with the Northern Virginia market posting year-over-year declines every month but December, when it rebounded with a double-digit increase. With 18,696 sales, the market was down 8.2 percent from a year before, but the average price rose to a record $551,220.
2015: The race to succeed President Obama was in full swing, and the economy continued its gradual, if not terribly exuberant, rebound from the depths of the recession. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on gay marriage, legalizing it across the land, while the public’s attention often found itself focused on terrorism at home and abroad. Pope Francis came to the United States, where political battles raged on issues ranging from gun control to a nuclear deal with Iran. At the local level, the McAuliffe administration’s proposed to allow single-occupant vehicles to use Interstate 66 at rush hour, if they paid a toll, drew criticism from some quarters and support from others. Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner – perhaps the nation’s first Republican-leaning celebrity Transgender-American, while Adele came roaring back on the music scene after a break. And the Redskins, after an iffy start and (what some would call media-manufactured) complaints about the team’s name, found success with a new quarterback before falling in the first round of the playoffs. We said goodbye to a host of notables in 2015, ranging from Julian Bond and E.L. Doctorow to Ernie Banks, Moses Malone, Yogi Berra and B.B. King; Jackie Collins, Leonard Nimoy and Natalie Cole; classic-TV icons Donna Douglas and Al Molinaro; and chef Paul Prudhomme. The real estate market saw a boost in both sales (up 8.6 percent to 20,309) and average price (up 1.4 percent to $558,988), while the total sales volum of $11.4 billion was the highest since it had peaked in 2005 at $15.7 billion.
2016: The presidential election’s many twists and turns – not to mention its surprise ending and the lingering animosity over the race – dominated the news in 2016. The political establishment laughed at the possibility that Donald Trump would end up president, but the voters said otherwise, a decision that also muddied the legacy of President Obama as he wrapped up two terms. The death of Antonin Scalia set off a battle in the U.S. Senate over whether to even consider President Obama’s nominee for a successor. The Zika virus had a significant impact in other parts of the world and began to make inroads in the U.S. The relationship between the police and the public further came under scrutiny, while terrorist attacks in both the U.S. and abroad continued to raise worries. In the Middle East, there was continued turmoil, and the Syrian civil war raged largely unabated. In Britain, voters narrowly opted to leave the European Union, again confounding the pollsters and pundits. Among those who left us during the year: Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro, Prince, the mother/daughter team of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, Gordie Howe, Natalie Cole, Arnold Palmer, George Michael, John McLaughlin, Edward Albee, David Bowie, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Glenn, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Garry Shandling, Florence Henderson, George Kennedy, Morley Safer and Merle Haggard. The real estate market showed a 3.7-percent increase in home sales to 21,097 (the highest total since 2006) but the average sales price was relatively flat, declining 0.5 percent to $556,368. Total sales volume bumped up to $11.7 billion, the highest since the market peak of $15.7 billion in 2005.
2017: The first year of the Trump administration was a rocky road filled with highs and lows and a never-ending series of tweets. On the positive side, the economy continued to do well, with the stock market seeing big gains and unemployment continuing its decline. There were challenges, however, from racial strife at home to questions about Russian meddling with the 2016 election to increasing tensions with North Korea. Problems in familiar spaces, including the Middle East, remained. In the local area, concerns about the direction of the economy remained, but for the most part unemployment stayed low. Among the famous names that went to the next life were Mary Tyler Moore, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Glen Campbell, Adam West (“Batman”), David Rockefeller, Jim Vance, Dick Gregory, German leader Helmut Kohl and Zbigniew Brzezinski. It was a solid year both for sales and prices across Northern Virginia, with a total of 22,555 properties going to closing last year, up 6.9 percent from 2017 – the highest sales total since 2005. Total sales volume for 2017 – $13.1 billion – was up from $11.7 billion in 2016 and also was the highest since the all-time record ($15.7 billion) was set in 2005, according to preliminary data, while the average sales price of $579,694 was up 4.1 percent from a year before.
2018: The roller coaster that is the Trump administration was mirrored by the roller coaster on Wall Street, with stocks soft for the year but swinging up and down on an almost daily basis. In general, the economy continued to see strength, if spread unevenly. Democrats scored a comeback in the U.S. House of Representatives but couldn’t take control of the Senate, and prospective 2020 presidential candidates bided their time before formally jumping into the race. British leaders were having a hard time figuring out how to gracefully “Brexit,” while Hollywood dealt with a host of scandals that seemed to shine a light on the industry’s selective moral indignation. Among those dying during the year: President George H.W. Bush, John McCain, Burt Reynolds, Aretha Franklin, Penny Marshall, Bernardo Bertolucci, Stan Lee, Roy Clark, Montserrat Caballe, Anthony Bourdain, Tom Wolfe, Charles Aznavour and Eunice Johnson, the very first “Bond Girl” (in two films). In the local real-estate market, the 22,140 sales for the year represented a decline of 1.8 percent from a year before, but the average sales price hit a record $590,582, up 1.9 percent from a year before. Total market volume of $13 billion was down slightly from a year before and was the fourth highest ever.
2019: Depending on your point of view, the big story of 2019 might have been the Trump impeachment proceedings, or the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy. Political polarization remained the norm, and the 2020 presidential race began in earnest. The U.S. and China had differences over economic, political and military matters; the U.S. and Iran had their challenges; and China faced calls for more democratization in Hong King. Russia, meanwhile, continued to have its finger in a number of pies, from the Middle East to the U.S. elections. At the state level, Democrats regained control of both houses of the General Assembly, and grew more dominant in Northern Virginia. It was the best of times (Washington Nationals and Mystics) and the worst of times (the ongoing debacle that is the Redskins) for the local sports scene. Among those lost in 2019: Carol Channing, Tim Conway, Doris Day, Valerie Harper, Lee Iacocca, Judith Krantz, Ross Perot, Luke Perry, I.M. Pei and Gloria Vanderbilt. The Northern Virginia real-estate market set an all-time high in average sales price (up 4 percent to $614,236) and had a relatively flat year in sales, being held back by a dearth of inventory in the innermost suburbs. The total sales volume of $13.6 billion was the best since 2005 and the third highest ever.