Break out the black ink!


No, it was not a misprint. It wasnt wishful thinking, either. After your editor had read and re-read the figures again and again and again, a call to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors assured her that they were indeed accurate.

More single-family homes really were sold this May than during the same month in 2007, giving us the first such increase of the year. Their sales actually rose by 7.84 percent for the NVAR area including Alexandria and Fairfax, to a total of 798.

Admittedly, townhouse and condo sales remained in the red for the same time period, with drops of 2.38 and 24.13 percent respectively, to totals of 492 and 434 sold. Nevertheless, the sudden surge in single-family purchases held the total decline down to 5.07 percent for all three categories combined. This marked the first time in 2008 that total sales fell by single digits for any category at all.

The good news was not entirely unexpected. Sales have been rising steadily since the first of the year. The total losses had been 10.79 percent in April, 28.65 percent in March, 33.72 percent in February and 46.92 percent in January.

Single-family and townhouse losses had gone from double to single digits in April, at 2.8 and 5.43 percent, respectively. Even the condos could also hold up their metaphysical heads, since their modest sales had been slowly but surely increasing throughout the year. Starting with a 45.04 percent plummet for January, they had improved by April to a 26.63 drop.

If the sales rose, however, the prices and the waiting times went in the opposite direction. The median sale price for May was $405,000, reflecting a 13.83 percent fall. This followed a 12.02 percent slide for April, to $413,500. The waiting time actually increased for May, by 20.55 percent, to a total of 88 days on the market. April had seen a similar hike, of 21.95, to an average 100 days wait.

At the NVAR, public affairs coordinator Ann Gutkin summed it up very simply by saying, Buyers are stepping off the sidelines, as abundant bargains lure them back into the marketplace. Since spring is traditionally the hottest homebuying season, the more realistic sellers seem likely to share the financial warmth as well.