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.

Expect A Slower Market Until February

Question: Does the Arlington market change in the winter?

Answer: November marks the start of the traditional “winter market” in Arlington that is defined by fewer homes being put up for sale and homes sitting on the market just a bit longer than they did earlier in the year. The decrease in new inventory will be obvious to anybody who has been searching for a home in 2019, but you’ll barely notice the increase in how long homes are taking to sell because the market is moving so quickly that even a slowdown will mimic spring markets in previous years.

Sharp Decrease In New Inventory

Historically, the fewest homes hit the market in Arlington from November-January, with the pace of new listings in December coming in at nearly 1/3 the rate of new listings from March-May. With inventory levels in 2019 already at historical lows, this winter will feel especially short on housing supply.

Month Contribution to Total New Listings
Buyer Demand Cools Off

Historically, the percentage of homes that go under contract within the first ten days decreases from November-January, with November and December (holiday season) having the most noticeable reduction in quick sales. However, with the pace of the Arlington market at all-time highs in 2019, you can expect the drop in demand in November and December to feel like peak spring demand in previous years.

Percentage of Homes Under Contract in First 1-10 Days
Is The Winter The Right Time For You?

The winter can be a great time to buy if you’re more focused on value because demand decreases so you may pick up some negotiation leverage.  However, if you’re searching for something unique and struggling to find properties that fit your criteria, the odds of the perfect place hitting the market in the winter decreases.

Given how low inventory is heading into this winter, I’m not sure buyers will find as many deals as they have in previous years. Demand is still strong from buyers who haven’t found a home yet in 2019 and low supply makes it a strong market for sellers, even during the holidays.

If you’re considering buying or selling in Arlington or the surrounding DC Metro communities and would like to learn more about the impact seasonality will have on your process, feel free to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Making Up For A Questionable Housing Report

Question: I recently read an article by the Sun Gazette that median price per square foot was down since last year in Arlington and the rest of Northern VA. Is that what you’re seeing in the market, despite reports of prices going up?

Answer: I read that article as well and was equally confused by the statistic that $/sqft was down 6.8% in Arlington in the first nine months of 2019 compared to the first nine months of 2018. While this data point may be technically correct, it doesn’t accurately represent what’s happening in the Arlington/Northern VA marketplace. Even without having access to the data behind it, does anybody believe that with all the news about the Amazon-effect on Arlington’s real estate market, that people are paying less per square foot in 2019?

Price-per-square-foot Is Actually Up (obviously)

The truth is that while the median $/sqft did drop year-over-year in the first nine months of 2019, it was actually due to a shift in the type of inventory that sold, not because buyers are getting more for their money. As I pointed out earlier this year in an article about a national news story on Arlington’s real estate market, it’s easy to find market data that sounds interesting (aka generates reader clicks) but doesn’t tell an accurate story.

When I drilled into the 2018 vs 2019 data on median and average $/sqft, I found that within comparable sub-markets (e.g. 2BR condos, 4BR single-family, etc) median and average $/sqft increased year-over-year. In fact, if you use average $/sqft instead of median, like the article references, there was a 9.5% increase across Arlington. In this case average is a better statistical measure than median, but of course the median $/sqft made for a better story.

Accurate Headlines From The First Nine Months

While I have the data together comparing the first nine months of 2019 to the first nine months of 2018, I’ll go ahead and offer up five headlines that accurately represent the Arlington real estate market through September 2019:

  1. The market is up, but not by as much as you might thing based on some new stories. The average purchase price in Arlington jumped 5.8% to just over $722,000.
  2. A lack of inventory drove total sales down by 8%, with the biggest drop-off showing up in the condo market which suffered from a 12.3% drop in sales, led by a 13.6% drop in two-bedroom condo sales.
  3. The price range of the middle 50% of homes jumped from $380,000-$864,300 in 2018 to $415,000-$916,000 in 2019, a 9.2% increase in the lower limit and a 6% increase in the upper limit. This indicates that the Amazon-effect is impacting lower price points faster than upper price points which makes sense because investors and other speculators are more likely to purchase at lower prices.
  4. Good properties sold much faster in 2019 with 62.7% of homes selling in the first 10 days, compared to 46.4% in 2018. The craziest stat? 85.5% of 2BR townhomes/duplexes sold within the first 10 days.
  5. Price growth in the 22202 zip code, the area surrounding Pentagon City and Crystal City aka National Landing aka Bezosville, led all Arlington zip codes with a 13.7% jump in average sold price.

If you ever run across market data you’re not sure about or would like a customized data analysis, please reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.