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Charting the market: Choosing a location for buying

Some folks move to the Washington area and know just where they want to live. If your job is in Reston, you’ll probably choose Virginia. If it’s in Laurel, you’ll likely pick Maryland. Those who work in the District or at the Pentagon can live on either side of the Potomac and travel about the same distance to work.

But maybe you have family or friends here already, or a house of worship you want to be near, and those factors will drive your decision.

So how do you choose?

The real estate statistics in today’s charts give you just a little bit of information about the real estate market in area jurisdictions. Obviously, these don’t tell you anything about schools, public transportation, parks, taxes and all the other things you care about.

Still, if you want to know how hard it will be to find a home to buy, and how much you might pay, this will give you some idea.

Let’s start with the three biggest markets: Fairfax County in Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland. Together, they account for 46 percent of the area’s home sales.

The median price of homes sold in Fairfax in April was a steep $420,000. Compare that with $365,000 in Montgomery and $168,000 in Prince George’s.

That low price point is attracting buyers to Prince George’s County. It’s one reason sales there are higher than in Montgomery this year. As recently as 2008, Montgomery was outselling Prince George’s by 2 to 1.

But home sales take longer in Prince George’s - 112 days for those sold in April. Anne Arundel was worse, though, at 127 days.

The region’s fastest sales are found in Fairfax County, where homes sold in an average of 48 days. That’s partially a result of strong buyer competition in Fairfax.

Sales chances were quite high in these three large jurisdictions: 65 percent in Fairfax, 49 percent in Prince George’s and 45 percent in Montgomery.

Sales chances are calculated by dividing a month’s sales figures by the inventory on the last day of the month, resulting in a percentage. A figure below 20 percent indicates a buyer’s market. Higher figures mean we’re in a balanced market or a seller’s market.

Chances were highest in Prince William in April. A few years ago, prices plummeted there and sales were slow. Buyers took notice, as they are in Prince George’s County now, and things turned around for Prince William County.

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