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Washington metro real estate market springs into action

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Real Estate,Dean Bartoli Smith

The spring real estate season is in full bloom in the Washington metro area, with prices rising in response to a continued inventory shortage and additional blossoms of new listings, a Realtor and market analyst said.

It appears once-apprehensive sellers finally are coming around and the number of new listings is beginning to increase.

"I'm seeing multiple offers, escalation clauses, waiving of home inspections, some waiving of appraisals or being willing to pay over appraised value for a home," said Realtor Robyn Burdett of Re/Max Allegiance.

Prices increased over the winter. Falls Church City led all areas in February with a 35 percent price increase over the year before, followed by Fairfax County at 15 percent. Prices in the District rose 9.9 percent, and in Montgomery County by 8.8 percent. Overall, prices rose by 11 percent in the metro area.

This trend continued in March, with prices overall increasing by 8 percent based on data from the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems. It was the 14th consecutive month for year-over-year gains. The median sales price in March in the District was $460,000, a record high.

"The low inventory is also pushing up the average sale-to-list price ratio, which is now at its highest level since the summer of 2006," said Corey Hart of the Real Estate Business Intelligence Index.

Hart said that while active listings overall remained at historic lows, the number of new listings could be a sign the pattern is changing. "This could be an indication that sellers are beginning to respond to the pent-up demand in the market," he said.

New listings were up over 13 percent across all property segments in the region in March, compared with February, which is well above the 10-year average change.

"Sellers are getting much more aggressive on their pricing. Just like in 2005 to 2006, the last sale, even though it has not settled or appraised, is a new comp when it sells in three to four days." Burdett said agents still face challenges with appraisers because they are strictly adhering to historical data and are not taking the market into consideration.

Sales continue to improve and in February hit their highest level since February 2007. In March, they increased 33 percent over February, moving that statistic more in line with seasonal patterns.

Burdett said Arlington is the hottest market area but she still had a townhouse in Fairfax City that landed 14 offers in three days. "The first showing was one hour after I put it on the market and the first offer was two-and-a-half hours after I put it on," she said.

Loudoun, Fair Lakes, Herndon and Burke also are active areas, Burdett said.

The RBI reported condos lead all property types in sales growth and now account for the highest proportion of the region's sales in over five years.

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