April 8, 2010 at 5:09 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
D.C. real estate market steady and stable

Washington is an anomaly in many ways among other U.S. cities of similar size. That’s resulted in a real estate market that, while not wholly impervious to dips and spikes happening in the rest of the country, operates largely at its own pace.

Local gay and gay-friendly Realtors say the District is in the midst of a robust housing market that’s found an equilibrium that was wildly out of whack in the mid ’00s and is showing steady growth such that it’s neither a “buyer’s” or “seller’s” market at the moment.

Evan Johnson, a gay Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage who runs the web site mygayagent.com with his partner, Tom Bauer, says that while unemployment is high and economic recovery remains sluggish in general, the D.C. real estate market has been simmering nicely as buyers hurry to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit that was extended but runs out at month’s end.

“We’ve been extremely busy with people taking advantage of the low interest rates and reasonable prices in Northwest D.C.,” Johnson says. “We haven’t seen things fall as they have in some of the suburbs. Its shows how stable our immediate market is.”

Valerie Blake, who’s straight but works with mostly gay and lesbian clients through Prudential Carruthers Realtors, says she, too, is seeing signs of stabilization but that small condos — a staple of D.C. city life — took the hardest hit in the recession.

“We had so many of them built, several developers had to turn them into apartments and people were taking these monstrous hundred-thousand dollar hits in places like Penn Quarter, Columbia Heights, Logan Circle a little bit but it’s still growing. Dupont always holds its own.”

Johnson predicts the glut of too many condos won’t last long. Because new condo construction has completely stopped, what has been built will be in demand again more and more in the next year or two.

“We’re already starting to see it a little bit,” he says. “We don’t have the inventory coming in like we’ve expected for the last 10 years so there will be a much higher demand very soon.”

Delta Associates, a real estate analysis and research firm, corroborates Johnson’s report. It says fourth quarter 2009 condo sales were higher than in the third quarter though sale prices are slightly down about 5.8 percent from what they were in fall 2008 when the stock market crashed. Delta’s latest data shows there are 6,071 unsold new condos in the D.C. metro area, a decline of about 40 percent from the year before. That’s enough, it reports, to keep inventory steady for about two-and-a-half years.

Gay Realtor Kevin McDuffy, also with Coldwell Banker, says his business has doubled from what it was a year ago.

“This last quarter proved to be fairly strong,” he says. “It wasn’t strong enough to move prices tremendously, but we were moving a lot more units than we were last year. My office alone sold almost double the units we did in the first quarter last year. To double our tending inventory, that’s a real good sign that the engine is moving.”

But is some of that just an artificial prop from the government that will start going south again once the tax credit ends? McDuffy says probably not because not only is the economy slowly rebounding, but D.C. residents who are first-time home buyers still have a federal $5,000 tax credit to fall back on, which isn’t available to those who take advantage of the $8,000 credit. The lesser one has been in place for several years.

None of the Realtors interviewed for this story predicted any substantial left hook in the coming months, but they predict steadily increasing stabilization of the market.

“I think for the past couple of months and maybe even longer, we’ve seen a steady increase in the confidence level of the buyers,” McDuffy says. “Good location, well-staged, nice-looking properties that are priced right, you get nice offers. I’m feeling really confident. We’ve had a good three to four months of increases in sales. Prices are going up slowly, which is healthier than having them jackknife all at once.”

The Realtors also say it takes time for new Washingtonians to understand how the market here is different. Some moving to the city don’t realize there aren’t nearly the number of foreclosures here, especially in Northwest, where the Realtors interviewed for this piece specialize.

“People are still amazed to find that things are going close to list,” Blake says. “It’s difficult to explain to people coming from other parts of the country.”

Johnson says for those thinking of buying, now is a good time. He doesn’t predict any major savings likely to come in holding out.

“There’s not going to be a chance to get something significantly cheaper in Northwest in the next six months or so mostly because there’s no large production of Northwest properties,” he says.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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