State of the Arlington and Northern VA Housing Market

Question: How is the real estate market doing so far this year?

Answer: 2020 ended with a surging single-family and townhouse market, especially further west, from buyers looking for more house and yard space, but a struggling condo market from an unusually high volume of condo inventory for sale and tepid condo demand. So what have we seen in the first six weeks of the 2021 real estate  market?

Single-Family and Townhouse Prices Up

The single-family and townhouse market is appreciating even further above where prices settled in 2020, with more competition (double-digit multiple offers). Through deals I’ve been involved in and conversations with colleagues, my unofficial estimate is that many single-family homes and townhouses are selling for 5-10% more than 2020 prices. I’m seeing this type of appreciation at all different price points too.

Condo Market Better, Slow Improvement Expected

The condo market worsened monthly from about June 2020 – November 2020, but reversed course a bit in December and remained slightly improved in January. I see the condo market picking back up at a slow pace and likely to continue improving through the spring, as demand hopefully/probably picks up, but I don’t see a return to the pre-COVID condo market any time soon.

Let’s take a look at some key charts for Arlington and Northern VA (Fairfax and Loudoun County)…

Arlington Months of Supply

Months of Supply is one of my favorite metrics because it combines supply and demand. The lower the Months of Supply, the more favorable a market is for sellers. Housing economists say that a well-balanced market has about six months of supply.

Single-family homes in Arlington hit an all-time low for Months of Supply in December and January, coming in at just a touch over one month, while the condo market has settled into just under 2.5 months of supply, which is about average for Arlington condos, save the two years after the Amazon HQ2 announcement.

New Listing Volume in Arlington

The number of condos listed for sale in January remained high, coming in 66.7% higher than January 2020. The number of single-family homes listed for sale remained stable, with an increase of just 11.9% over January 2020.

Dramatic Shift in Fairfax and Loudoun

If you think buying a house in Arlington is difficult, just try buying a house in Fairfax or Loudoun County, where single-family Months of Supply has dropped below one month to 2-3 weeks! This represents a much bigger shift in market conditions than what we’ve experienced in Arlington, which has been more competitive for longer.

Northern VA Condo Supply

All three Northern VA counties charted below (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun) have seen a spike in condo supply over the last 6+ months, but condo absorption has actually increase by enough in Loudoun County to not only offset the increase supply, but cause Months of Supply to drop to 10+ year lows of two weeks. Arlington County and Fairfax County have gone the other direction, with significantly higher Months of Supply.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

2020 Housing Market Review: Condos

Question: How did Arlington’s condo market perform in 2020?

Answer: I ended up writing a lot about the condo market during the second half of 2020 because of the historically high numbers of units listed for sale from July to November, falling demand, and falling market values (compared to the first half of the year). However, there were slightly positive signs in the last month of 2020 and early weeks of 2021 that the negative trends are reversing. Despite a 2nd half that looked very different from the previous three years, 2020 overall was still a strong market for condos in Arlington. Let’s take a look at how things played out…

Prices Up, Volume Down, Pace Mostly Unchanged…

The average and median price of condos increased by 4.2% and 6.3%, respectively, a strong performance but a bit short of the nearly 8% growth in 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised to see no appreciation or slightly negative appreciation in 2021 as a result of changing housing priorities from COVID.

Despite the late surge of condos listed for sale, the number of condos actually sold in 2020 dropped 8.3% from 2019 and 19.3% compared to 2018.

The speed of the market remained relatively unchanged, with average days on market staying put at 7 days and median days on market decreasing slightly from 19 days to 18.4 days. However, my preferred “speed” metric, the percentage of units selling within one week, dropped to 48% in 2020 from 52% in 2019, but still well above 2018’s 29%.

Six Interesting Charts

Below, I put together a series of charts to visualize how the Arlington condo market performed in 2020 and how that performance compares to the 2015-2019 markets.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

2020 Housing Market Review: Single-Family Homes

Question: How did Arlington’s single-family housing market perform in 2020?

Answer: Despite the pandemic, the single-family housing market produced strong growth locally and nationally, primarily due to interest rates setting record lows throughout the year and a sharp change in housing criteria due to ongoing work/school-from-home demands. While Arlington experienced strong growth, less expensive markets further from DC saw sharp increases in demand and explosive growth.

More Expensive…

In Arlington, the average and median price for a single-family home increased by 4.9% and 5.7%, respectively, after similar increases in 2019. The growth showed up in all ends of the market, including Arlington’s most expensive homes, with another record-shattering year for the number of $2M-$3M homes sold. Only 17% of single-family homes sold for less than $800,000 and about half of those were tear-downs or required major renovations.

Volume Still Down…

Despite a very slow rollout of homes for sale in the first half of the year due to lockdown measures and pandemic fears, market volume caught up quickly in the second half of the year, ending up with 13 more homes sold in 2020 than in 2019, but still ~10% lower than 2015-2018.

Faster Pace Sales…

Average and median Days on Market dropped for the 5th year in a row to 7 and 22.2 days, respectively, and the percentage of homes selling in the first week increased for the 5th year in a row, hitting the 50% mark in 2020. The average and median price for a home purchase within the first week on the market was 1.1% and 2% over the asking price, respectively. The takeaway? If you’re searching for a home, be prepared to act quickly and pay above the asking price for something new-to-market.

Six Interesting Charts

Below, I put together a series of charts to visualize how the Arlington housing market performed in 2020 and how that performance compares to the 2015-2019 markets.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Analyzing the Pace of Housing Inventory and Demand

Question: When should I expect more homes to be put on the market for sale?

Answer: 2020 was an unusual year for housing inventory because we saw so little inventory come out during the spring, when the pace of new listings peaks, and an explosion of listings, especially condos, from late summer through the holidays. Here’s a link to a column I wrote that visualizes how unusual 2020 was for housing inventory in Arlington. Even though my analysis in this column and previous columns focuses on Arlington, similar patterns show up and can be applied across the DC Metro.

It is much more likely that the pace of new listings will follow a more traditional pattern this year, with the number of homes listed for sale increasing steadily from now to the spring, peaking for about mid-March to mid-May, and then dropping steadily through the rest of the year, with a brief post-Labor Day spike.

Weekly Pace of Listings, by Housing Type

I’ve always shared and seen monthly breakdowns of listing inventory, so I thought it would be interesting to break it down a bit further into a weekly chart and see if there’s a noticeable difference in the seasonal pace of new listings of single-family homes/townhouses and condos.

The following chart does just that and pulls data from the five years spanning 2015-2019 (I threw out 2020 because it’s an anomaly). The weekly percentages represent that week’s share of total annual listings. Note that the data for the first and last weeks of the year aren’t always full weeks because of how Excel calculates weeks.

As it turns out, the pace of listing inventory for single-family homes/townhouses and condos is nearly identical throughout the year, aside from a slightly higher pace for SFH/TH in the middle of the spring and a slightly lower pace for SFH/TH during the dog days of summer.

What can buyers looking for a home in 2021 take away from this chart? You can expect a significant increase in listings beginning around mid-February, buckle-up for the most options in April and May, plan your vacations in July and August, look-out for the post-Labor Day surge, and hopefully you’ve found your dream home by the holidays!

Weekly Pace of Listings, by Year

The pace of new listings remains pretty consistent year-after-year, as shown by the chart below. There were only a handful of weeks with unusually low listing activity, compared to previous years. I’m guessing there was major weather activity during those weeks that caused some homeowners to delay or accelerate their listings by a week or two to avoid the drag of bad weather.

The consistency you see in the five-year chart below is also reflected in longer (ten and fifteen year) charts, but those get a little too messy for display.

Weekly Pace of Listings and Contracts

The pace of listing inventory and contract activity is highly correlated. The “chicken or the egg” question is whether more/less listing activity drives more/less contract activity (demand) or does demand dictate listing activity or do buyers and sellers just have similar patterns of behavior and thus the pace of supply and demand naturally correlate?

I think that it’s mostly due to number three, a natural correlation of behavior patterns that cause the pace of supply and demand to move in tandem. This is also supported by data like the new-listing-to-new-pending ratios not being very seasonal.

Using the chart below, one could even make the argument that the best time to list a property for sale is the last 2-3 months of the year, when the pace of contract activity (demand) consistently exceeds new listings (competition). However, I’ve analyzed “success metrics” like days on market and sale-to-ask-price ratio based on the month a property is listed and overwhelmingly found that February-May/June produce the most favorable results for sellers.

I hope these charts were interesting and helpful to you! If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Single-Family Demand Shifting From City to Suburb

Question: Have you seen a shift in single-family home preferences away from DC/Arlington further out into Northern VA?

Answer: Last week, I wrote about a clear shift in Arlington’s (and DC’s) condo market as historically high volumes of inventory have come to market and demand has tapered off. I received some follow-up questions about how the single-family market compares so this week we’ll take a look at some of the trends in single-family detached (SFD) homes in DC, Arlington, Fairfax County, and Loudon County.

Across all markets, demand and competition for SFD homes is high, but there is a clear shift in preferences for SFD housing further away from the city that we’ve never seen before. Both Fairfax County and Loudon County have reached all-time highs in absorption and all-time low months of supply.

Suburban Absorption Rate Sky-Rockets

The absorption rate, a strong metric for demand, has almost always been higher in DC and Arlington than in Fairfax and Loudon Counties. An absorption rate of 1.0 equal one home under contract for every home listed for sale and great than 1.0 means homes are going off the market faster than they’re being put in the market.

The first chart shows a dramatic increase in the absorption rate in Fairfax and Loudon Counties since June, far outpacing the DC and Arlington markets. Loudon County, the furthest/least densely populated of the four markets was on fire in August, with an already high absorption rate increasing nearly 50% over July.

Check out the difference between the Arlington County and Loudon County 10-year Absorption Rate in the second and third charts below.

Listing Volume Up Seasonally

One of the trends that stood out in last week’s condo analysis is the historically high volume of listings that came to market in July and August, ranking among the highest of any month in the last 10+ years. While the volume of SFD listings is up in July and August compared to past summer months, volume is still well below peak spring listing volume.

The year-over-year change in SFD listing volume in Arlington for July and August is pretty extreme (see second chart below) simply because of how low volume was in 2019 due to the Amazon HQ2 announcement, but the numbers still fall well below a normal spring market.

Historically Low Months of Supply in Suburbs

Months of Supply, a great supply/demand metric, is something I watch closely to predict price movement. The lower the Months of Supply, the more upwards pressure there is on prices.

Months of Supply for SFD homes in Fairfax and Loudon Counties has blown through 10+ year historical lows (first and second charts) and shows no sign of slowing down (prices likely rising rapidly), while Months of Supply has tapered off and even increased slightly in Arlington (third chart), a sign that prices might be stabilizing. Months of Supply in Arlington is still way too low to create a buyer’s market where prices might start dropping.

I hope you’ve found this analysis interesting and/or helpful. If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Why Can’t I Find A House!?

Question: I’m prepared to make a strong offer in Arlington’s hyper-competitive market, but I can’t even find a house to make an offer on! Why is every home on the market either old and too small or new and too big??

Answer: While debates about Missing Middle and tear-downs continue, I thought it would be helpful to look at why Arlington is such a difficult place for most families to find good housing options. Most of Arlington’s single-family housing problems stem from when the majority of homes were built – before 1960 and within the last decade. Only 17.8 % of single-family homes sold since 2016 were built between 1960 and 2009!

Too Old, Too New

According to Arlington’s 2019 Profile, there were 28,500 single family detached homes in the County and according to public records, ~80% of those homes were built prior to 1960 or since 2010. Why is that a problem?

Many homes built prior to 1960 are functionally obsolete for most families (“the reduction of an object’s usefulness or desirability because of an outdated design feature that cannot be easily changed”) and homes built since 2010 have an average price of nearly $1.8M over the last 18 months.

Most homes built in Arlington in the 1940s and 1950s (with the original footprint) are plagued by 2-3 small bedrooms with small reach-in closets sharing one small bathroom, small enclosed kitchens, and small basements with low ceilings. They also lack the openness desired by most families in today’s market. Unfortunately, there’s very little one can do to bring these older homes up to today’s standards without extensive/expensive remodeling and/or expansion.

The economics of building a new home in the last decade doesn’t support the construction of a more modest homes (3,000-4,500sqft) so most new homes are built with 5,000-6,000+ square feet and are priced well above most budgets.

Just Right

It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that Arlington homes were consistently built with designs more suited to today’s buyer including things like attached garages, master suites, and combination kitchen/dining spaces. While these 1980s-1990s designs may not be perfect, it makes for more reasonable compromises at prices many more Arlington families can afford.

Unfortunately, over the last four years, there have been fewer single-family homes for sale that were built during the 1980s and 1990s (4.3% combined) than any other decade until the 1910s.

Housing Changes Over Time

I put together some charts to highlight how home sizes have changed through each decade as well as how the average cost of a home changes by the decade it was built. These charts are based on Arlington single-family detached sales since 2016.

Note: Older homes that have been remodeled/expanded and sold are included in this data so the average size, bedroom, and bathroom count for older homes is higher than what you would expect from the original designs. Most pre-1960 homes were built with three bedrooms, one bathroom, and under 2,000sqft.

Note: Total finished square footage includes any finished basement space.

Here’s the data table for each of the charts:

Decade Built# SoldAvg PriceAvg BRsAvg Full BAsAvg Finished Sqft
<1930355$945,3453.62.42,302
1930s562$899,8673.52.42,315
1940s987$827,1973.52.32,121
1950s961$870,4533.72.52,413
1960s232$915,8184.22.92,760
1970s104$944,5764.02.82,919
1980s86$1,006,0184.23.03,193
1990s96$1,184,4094.63.23,641
2000s229$1,430,9054.94.04,697
2010s584$1,638,6965.24.65,004
Total4,196$1,022,3724.02.92,965
Using This Information

For those of you currently searching for a home or planning to start your home search, hopefully this information can be used to help you understand how likely/unlikely it will be to find the type of home you’re looking for and be more prepared to act decisively when the right home hits the market.

For those of you who own a home that falls within the middle-ground many buyers are seeking, you should have an even more favorable position within an already favorable market for sellers.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.