The final figures are in, and it looks like the 2015 local housing market was a modest winner. Coming off a banner 2013, the 2014 market left buyers, sellers, agents, brokers and lenders all feeling a bit edgy when the previous year’s successes did not spill over into the next year. But despite a bit of a rollercoaster ride, 2015 closed with annual regional sales 9.4 percent higher than 2014 — their highest since 2006. Data for the region, that includes the general Metro area, as well as specifics for Fairfax and Arlington counties, the cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and Alexandria, and the towns of Herndon, Vienna and Clifton is supplied by RealEstate Business Intelligence, L.L.C. (RBI), an arm of the local MLS system.
In the first half of the year the normal buying pattern was disrupted by a number of factors, not the least being the long and difficult winter which pushed the start of the spring market from late January or February to mid-March.
“The hottest real estate season lost a solid month of sales,” said Reston-based Keller Williams agent Andy Krumholz. “Then it ended earlier than normal, as well,” he added. “Normally lasting until late June before the summer slowdown, this past year the market went to sleep in May and stayed that way through Labor Day.”
TO EVERYONE’S RELIEF, the second half of the year saw a real pick up in real estate action. Virgil Frizzell, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) chairman of the board, noted “a strong fall market and sometimes a flurry of bidding wars” that helped overcome the slow start, even with the jitters that came as the world waited for the anticipated increase in the Fed Funds Rate by the Federal Reserve, and the adjustments to be made as new closing laws went into effect.
According to the RBI data, Fairfax County had the most closed sales in 2015, increasing 9.6 percent over 2014. Alexandria came in with a 9.4 percent increase, Fairfax City with 7.9 percent, Arlington with 3.9 percent and Falls Church with 3.8 percent.
Among the jurisdictions, Fairfax County also saw the highest increase in new listings, up 14.6 percent over the previous year, a trend that Anita Lansansky, CRB, managing broker-vice president Long and Foster Realtors in North Reston can attest to. “We’re a 60 percent/40 percent listing versus sales organization and it was a brisk year for us,” she said, although at the moment “there’s not a lot of inventory.” Chairman Frizzell agrees that “our region could always benefit from affordably priced new homes that will help our renter population make the move to home ownership.”
In terms of sales pricing, Lansansky’s opinion is that it was an almost neutral market year. “Buyers couldn’t ‘steal’ a house, but sellers couldn’t easily sell a property not in good condition. There was quite a bit of negotiating during many of the transactions.”
Krumholz agreed with that assessment. “Even as inventory increased and some sellers were adjusting their sales price expectations, buyers were remaining selective. Homes that needed repairs or improvements languished on the market.”
The RBI numbers show that both Lansansky and Krumholz were right in their thoughts about pricing and the average days on the market (DOM) of a given property. The region saw only a 1.1 percent increase in the median sales price. Behind D.C., Arlington County and Alexandria City led the way, with increases over 4 percent. In Fairfax County median sales prices were 3.2 percent higher in 2015 than in 2014. Only Falls Church saw a year-over-year decrease, dropping 1.4 percent, but keeping the “most expensive location crown” among the Northern Virginia locales with a 2015 median sales price of $690,000. At 22, days on the market increased slightly for all of the areas analyzed, but even those increases did not depress the overall sense of market health, since the two-day increase in the median DOM from 2014 is still 41 days less than the DOM high of 68 in 2008, and not far off the lowest DOM level recorded in the past decade of 15 days in 2013.
SO WHAT DO THE EXPERTS take from this plethora of information as they look to the 2016 market? NVAR CEO Ryan T. Conrad believes the positive trends will continue throughout the year. “Our region’s sales pace last year reflected that there was homebuyer confidence,” he stated in a recent NVAR press release, and “serious homebuyers will understand that their buying power will be strongest in the early part of the year” considering further expected rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.
Lansansky, with her 40 years of local experience, is looking at 2016 to be “as good, if not better, than 2015.” Asked if she saw the current Wall Street woes as a challenge to the market, she replied the effect might just be the opposite. “With interest rates still so low, the volatility of the stock market might just steer people more toward real estate as the safer bet.” Lansansky also feels that the recent easing of some of the regulations and requirements could make home-buying more of a possibility, especially for younger and first-time buyers.
Frizzell is equally positive about the 2016 outlook. “Millenials are starting to make the move,” he said. Several of his rental clients are now on the hunt for homes of their own. Armed with the RBI data, his own expertise, and encouraging information provided from the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, Frizzell thinks that continued employment growth and a more balanced economy in the region might make 2016 “one of the best years ever.”
Links to data and analysis by locale can be found on the NVAR website, www.nvar.com. Those interested in comprehensive date on the region including housing, job growth by sector and wages and more, can visit the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis website at www.cra.gmu.edu.