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The spring home-buying season across Northern Virginia got a jump-start in February, and ongoing inventory challenges continue to push prices higher, even as the industry waits to see what impact national health concerns might play on the local market.

“We had more buyers in the market [in February] than this time last year. As a result, sellers often ended up with offers with escalation clauses,” said Thai-Hung Nguyen, the broker-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Premier.

Nguyen, a board member of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) said a relatively warm and snow-free month helped spur activity.

“In Fairfax County, more buyers encountered multiple offers for homes priced below $1 million. In Arlington, multiple offers were common up to the $1.5 million range,” Nguyen said.

Home sales across the NVAR region in February totaled 1,194, up 4.9 percent from a year before. The territory includes Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church.

Home sales were down in Arlington and Alexandria (where the inventory shortage remains most acute) and in the city of Fairfax (where there are only a few dozen sales per month). But Fairfax County, the region’s behemoth, saw a 9-percent increase the helped kick-start the spring sales season.

The average sales price for all kinds of properties across the region stood at $647,681 for the month, up 13.4 percent. Fairfax and Arlington counties, the two largest jurisdictions, saw increases of 16.1 and 17.2 percent, respectively, while Alexandria was up slightly and the smaller markets of Falls Church and the city of Fairfax were down.

The inventory crunch appears to be easing somewhat in the broader market, even though the number of homes available for prospective purchasers was still down 11 percent from a year before.

“We saw a 12-percent increase in listings as a region, which may allow buyers a few more choices,” said Nicholas Lagos, an associate broker with Century 21 New Millennium and broker/owner of Gawen Realty in Arlington, who serves as NVAR chairman.

But that increase in inventory is being offset by the increase in prices, “pushing limited options further out of reach for many buyers,” Lagos acknowledged.

February’s sales total was the highest for that month since 2007, the last year before the recession, when more than 1,500 homes changed hands in an overheated market.

Nguyen said that while it is a sellers’ market, buyers should not get carried away.

“In addition to price-escalation clauses, we are seeing offers that waive home inspections, appraisal contingencies and even financing contingencies,” he said. “Buyers may get too aggressive in their offers and make careless mistakes.”

The February sales market concluded before the full brunt of the public-health crisis reached U.S. shores, but local Realtors were reporting that the COVID-19 virus was having an impact on prospective purchasers who lived overseas, where the impact hit earliest.

How will the virus impact the local market? “It may be a month or two before we see the effects” and whether there will be a discernible impact, Lagos said.

For more details, see the Website at www.nvar.com/marketstats.

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