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Posted January 31, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Housing market picks up

By James Heffernan -- Daily Staff Writer

The local real estate market is entering 2009 with a little momentum.

The number of closings in the Winchester-Front Royal area in the fourth quarter of last year jumped nearly 12 percent over the same three months in 2007, according to the Virginia Association of Realtors. At the same time, the median sales price -- the mid-point of the data -- fell 27 percent to $183,533.

It was the region's second consecutive quarter of increased home sales and falling prices -- a trend that is especially evident in the outer rim of the Washington metro area, according to John McClain, senior fellow for the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

"As prices move to better affordability, there are people out there who are buying," McClain said during a VAR conference call Monday with reporters.

For the year, home sales were down only 8 percent in the Blue Ridge region. The state average was 13.6 percent.

The group's Massanutten region -- Shenandoah and Page counties -- didn't fare as well. Home sales were down 22.7 percent in the fourth quarter despite a steep drop in prices. But the sales figure was better than the 34.7 percent decline in the third quarter.

VAR representatives from the state's major metro areas all reported seeing a bump in sales activity in recent months.

"We are guardedly optimistic about the increase in activity here," said Susan McKenney, president of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and an associate broker with ReMax Allegiance in Alexandria. Much of the interest is in properties listed for under $400,000, she said.

Sales in Prince William County were up a whopping 73 percent last year.

"If the activity we're seeing is any indication of things to come, we look for an encouraging 2009," she said.

Blue Ridge Association of Realtors President Diana Cleveland, of ERA OakCrest in Winchester, could not be reached for comment.

Statewide, prices have been relatively flat, and the fourth quarter saw a modest decline in sales, but McClain attributes some of that to seasonal factors.

"Virginia's economy and housing market continue to perform reasonably well compared to the national level," he said.

Foreclosures, meanwhile, appear to have hit a plateau, according to McClain, as most of the infamous subprime mortgages initiated near the end of 2006 have re-set.

"The key is going to be fixing policy at the national level," he said, including using some of President Obama's proposed economic stimulus package to stem the tide of foreclosures. "We have a window of about a year. If we can get housing and the market stabilized, we'll be OK."

Northern Virginia is home to about 80 percent of all the foreclosures in the state.

VAR representatives reported between a five- and eight-month supply of homes currently on the market, which is down sharply from this time last year.

Contact James Heffernan at jheffernan@nvdaily.com

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