Housing Market Reveals Cold September


It was a chilly September for home sales in the City of Alexandria, according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. Both single-family houses and condos lost ground, while townhouse sales remained static, compared to the same month last year.

Single-family home sales suffered the steepest slide. The 33-percent sales drop, to 20 units sold, joined an 8-percent median price increase to $652,500. Condos did slightly better with just a 6-percent dip in sales, to 79, and a median price decline to $286,000. The median price rose to $530,000 for the 50 townhouses sold.

Supply v. Demand

But statistics failed to tell the whole story, according to two experienced real estate agents. Elizabeth Lucchesi at McEnearney Associates in Alexandria explained that this Septembers supply was lower than last years, accounting for the apparent drop in sales. In fact, she said, Buying activity is up, with more contracts and closed transactions.

In September 2008, she said, 142 single-family homes were listed and 28 were purchased, resulting in almost 20 percent of available properties being sold. This September, only 116 were listed while 30 went under contract, for an absorption rate of about 26 percent. The same pattern persisted for the other two categories as well.

The supply is definitely down this year, Lucchesi said. The foreclosures and short sales are being sold off, and the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers has helped some of the transactions, too.

August Was Hot

At Long&Fosters Alexandria Old Town historic district office, Chris White also pointed out that the cool September sales had followed an especially hot August.

We had a lot of houses selling in August, and that might have dried up the pool of buyers, he said. Usually, sales slow down in August and pick up in September, but this year it was the other way around.

He added that the startling reversal might have been connected to the low interest rates, leading August buyers to believe falsely that rates had bottomed out and were due to rise again. They are now hovering near 5 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Compared to both August and July, the September figures for Alexandria showed an especially startling drop in single-family home sales. In August, a 44-percent sales increase had led to 26 units sold, while a 23-percent median price declined to $555,000. Townhouses had shown a 6-percent sales decrease, to 60 units sold, coupled with a 12-percent median price hike to $526,000. Condos had held relatively steady, with a 4-percent dip in units sold, to 80, and a 7-percent median price drop, to $254,500.

All three categories had seen rising sales in July.

Regional Sales Rising

For the Northern Virginia region including both the City of Alexandria and Fairfax, home sales were up by a healthy 8.9 percent for the first three quarters of the year, as compared to the same period in 2008. The average price fell by 9.4 percent, to $427,515, leading to a total of 14,515 homes sold.

September sales gained about 2 percent on last year, with 1,684 units sold. They included a 9.8-percent sales increase for single-family homes, to a total of 740 units sold. Condo sales rose by 7.6 percent, to 454. Only townhouses showed a loss, by 11.6 percentage points, to 490. The average number of days a house spent on the market fell by 32.3 percentage points, to 63 days.

The news was especially welcome when compared to the first three quarters of 2008, during the depths of the housing bust. This was marked by a 17-percent plunge to an unlucky 13,333. The average price at that time fell by 20.9 percent, to $348,250.