by Tomoeh Murakami Tse, The Washington Post
2 May 2006, p. A1
“Misty and Steven DiPietro have had a for-sale sign in front of their house for 83 days now. A neighbor’s has been there seven months. Down the street, there are two more houses for sale, and around the corner, four more.
“If it seems as if a lot of people are trying to sell houses in the DiPietros’ suburban Leesburg neighborhood these days, that’s because they are. The 20176 Zip code area, where their two-year-old house stands, has the highest number of homes for sale in the region, according to a Washington Post analysis of statistics from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the region’s multiple listing service. More than 600 houses, townhouses and condos are on the market in that Zip code, which includes the northern portion of Leesburg and extends to the northern edge of Loudoun County.
“What’s happening in 20176 reflects a dynamic at play throughout the region. Homes on average are sitting on the market longer — in many neighborhoods, much longer than they did a year ago. Those who study local real estate markets say the homes are lingering for two main reasons: because of a housing glut in areas where builders put up large developments during the housing boom of the past five years and because of buyers who are counting on better prices as the market cools.
“The neighborhoods with the most single-family houses and townhouses for sale are concentrated in Loudoun and Prince William counties. The Zip codes with the most condos on the market are closer in, most notably in Northwest Washington, the southwest portion of Alexandria, northern Reston and Aspen Hill.
“The MRIS statistics generally undercount the number of homes for sale because they don’t capture people who are selling without an agent or builders who sell directly to buyers.
“People are still shopping for homes, but with so many more to look at, that translates to less foot traffic for each listing, said Ian Moffett, a real estate agent with Realty Direct in Sterling who mostly works in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.
” ‘If you have 35 houses to choose from, you are going to choose five or six and look at those homes,’ Moffett said. ‘You are not going to see the most expensive house of the 35 homes.’
“That has meant sellers such as the DiPietros and their neighbors have had to scale back their expectations — both for how long it will take to sell and how much money they will get.
” ‘If I’m a buyer, I would probably come in and try to lowball me,’ said Steven DiPietro, 36, an Internet service program manager and father of three. ‘I think you have to be patient.’
“There are many variables to consider when evaluating sales by zip codes. Zip codes differ in size and population density. So those with the most listings may not necessarily be the areas with the highest levels of inventory per capita. Nevertheless, experts and real estate agents say The Post’s analysis, based on active listings from April 7, provides a detailed snapshot of the market at a time when the mounting number of unsold homes is perhaps the most visible sign that the housing boom is indeed over.
“Potomac Crossing, where the DiPietros live, is a sprawling development with more than 900 single-family houses and townhouses. Forget ‘Desperate Housewives.’ Here, people talk about the latest adventures of sometimes-desperate home sellers, with neighbors trading tales about how much the asking price was reduced, friends keeping track of each other’s foot traffic and always — always — trying to maximize curb appeal.
“But making a house stand out can be tough when three others of similar style, size and age are up for sale on the same block. When her real estate agent made follow-up phone calls to potential buyers, Misty DiPietro said, they could only vaguely recall her house.
” ‘It’s a little discouraging,’ she said. The DiPietros are moving to a larger house in Hamilton, to be completed in December, and have shaved $20,500 off their original $650,000 asking price after watching neighbors across the street reduce theirs and get a contract for that amount.
“Archie Harders, a veteran real estate agent with McEnearney Associates, is resorting to sales tactics that would have been unnecessary a year ago. A key, he said, is to get homes viewed by as many buyers’ agents as possible; to that end, he frequently updates listings in the database of homes that agent use.
” ‘If you change a comma, or a period, your listing pops up as having been edited,’ he said. ‘It’s another way of keeping it in front of their face.’
“A few blocks away from the DiPietros, Ken Wasserman sat one recent evening in his tidy, if bare, dining room, lamenting just how quickly the real estate landscape has changed. The house next door, he said, sold in a week last summer for $700,000.
“Wasserman and his wife, both scientists with two children, put their house on the market in November for $716,000. They waited. And waited. Aware of developers offering tens of thousands of dollars in incentives on new homes in the area, the couple recently reduced the asking price to $680,000.
” ‘Nothing. No offer,’ Wasserman said.
“In an adjacent subdivision, also in the 20176 Zip code, Chris Downs, 25, a potential buyer, was flipping through townhouse listing fliers that he and his mother had collected from brochure boxes on signposts.
“Downs, 25, a computer programmer, is considering buying his second townhouse and renting out the first, which he bought in 2004. Back then, Downs recalled, he made up his mind to buy within 15 minutes of setting foot in the home; he and the seller drew up the contract as a line of people waited outside to see the Leesburg townhouse.
“But that was two years ago. This time around, Downs plans on negotiating hard.
” ‘There are a lot of choices,’ he said. ‘When you look at these brochures, they’re just slashing prices.’
“The same way that many houses were built in the outer suburbs during the boom years, thousands of condos were constructed in more urban areas. And those neighborhoods now are seeing an explosion of condos for sale, both new and used.
“Alicia and Jeff Hennie, whose Columbia Heights condo hit the market Thursday with a $399,000 price tag, say they are prepared to wait it out, at least for a few months. Their one-bedroom unit is in the 20009 Zip code, which has the highest inventory of condos in the region. In their 64-unit building alone, two other similar condos are for sale, including an investor-owned, fully renovated unit. The couple is looking at a May 20 move-in date for a brand new condo downtown in the 20001 Zip code, another area with high condo inventory.
” ‘We don’t have to have it sold right away,’ said Alicia Hennie, 28, a manager at a nonprofit teen pregnancy prevention group. ‘But we don’t want to carry two mortgages. . . . We’ll see what happens.’
“Michael Soto, another condo seller in 20009, thought that he and his wife, Felicia, had priced their two-bedroom unit well when they put it on the market at $750,000 a month ago. A unit with the same layout sold for that much in November.
“After four open houses, which drew about 100 visitors, it remains unsold. On Wednesday, the couple reduced their asking price to $725,000.
“Sure, they’re disappointed, Soto said. But he’s sure they will make a good profit on the condo, because in the four years they have owned it, values have soared. And the less-frenzied market means they may be able to get a good deal as they look to move up to a single-family house.
” ‘It may not be the peak price, but it’s still going to be a good offer,’ he said of the condo. ‘It’s all relative.’ “