By the Numbers: Real Estate Market Analysis

Insiders are optimistic about the Bethesda-area housing market

Plus:  Home Sales Trends  |  Home Sales Highlights  |  Most Expensive Homes Sold in 2016

Bethesda real estate agent Lauren Davis plunged into 2017 without any properties to sell—and she was feeling great about it. All the inventory she had last year was sold or under contract, and while she expected new clients to arrive soon, her plate was clean. “Our team had the best year we’ve ever had in 2016, and I feel that ’17 is poised to be that good or better,” she says. “It’s all looking up for us.”

Others with their eye on the Bethesda-area housing market had a similar message at the dawn of 2017: Buyers are hunting for homes closer to the buzzing city core, nothing is sitting on the market for long, and hopes are high for a strong sales year.”

The statistics back up the optimism. Comparing 2015 and 2016 figures, the total dollar amount of all sale prices increased about 8 percent in Bethesda and about 5 percent in Potomac. The average price of a Bethesda home rose a little more than 3 percent to $956,020 in 2016, and the number of units sold jumped about 4.5 percent in 2016.In Potomac, the average home price dipped slightly—about $6,500, down to $986,470—but the number of dwellings sold went from 596 in 2015 to 631 in 2016. (Data was provided by MarketStats by ShowingTime based on listing activity from MRIS, a Bright MLS company.)”

Sounds impressive, but what do all those figures tell us? “Really what that means is the market was busy,” says Jamie Coley, a Bethesda real estate agent with Long & Foster Real Estate and president of the Rockville-based Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. What he’s seeing on paper, he’s also seeing on the ground. Open houses are crowded with interested buyers, and homes are off the market quickly. In other words, it’s a seller’s market.”

The Montgomery County homes that are getting grabbed fastest are priced at $1.75 million or less, Coley says, and anything more costly tends to be more difficult to sell. 

Local real estate agent Jane Fairweather says the housing market in Bethesda and other suburban environs is a bit more sluggish than in Washington, D.C. “For millennials and for downsizers, the D.C. market offers a lot more product,” she says. “The suburban centers are fine; they’re just not as hot as the urban centers.”

In her 32 years in real estate, Fairweather has watched as families with young children relocate from D.C. to Bethesda in search of more space. Despite a surge of interest in walkable communities and living near food and shopping centers, that pattern holds true, she says. “There is a point at which living urban is great, but living urban with a lot of kids and their stuff is only going to work in a single-family home,” she says.”

There are those, however, who are willing to make trade-offs in order to walk from their home to a bistro or Metro station. Davis says she’s meeting a growing number of families eager to live the urbanized life. “Young families are willing to forgo more space,” she says. “They may live in a smaller house to maintain their lifestyle.””

Davis also has noticed empty nesters hopping from large suburban dwellings to more modest homes in denser neighborhoods. Often they’ll downsize to another single-family home so they have spare bedrooms when their children visit. “Their kids think it’s cool to be closer in to Bethesda, so it makes everyone happy,” she says.”

For Fairweather, there are still a few question marks about this year. She wonders how President Donald Trump’s administration will change the playing field, especially since Montgomery County is filled with people whose jobs depend on federal dollars. “Our industry here is nonprofit and government and biomedical,” Fairweather says. And it remains to be seen “whether or not the funding streams for typical liberal causes will be tightened under the Trump administration.””

On the other hand, new jobs could be headed to Bethesda in coming months and years, Coley says. The construction of the Purple Line, a light-rail route linking Bethesda and New Carrollton, could draw employers. And hotel giant Marriott International’s plan to move its headquarters into downtown Bethesda might also energize the housing market. A few Marriott employees have already contracted properties in Bethesda or started eyeing homes, Coley says. ”

“It’s starting to rock and roll for us,” Coley says, “and this is just in the first few weeks of January.”

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