Being one of the most influential Brokerages in the Fredericksburg region, means we often get questions from the media. Recently Bill Freehling wrote an article entitled Stafford, Spotsylvania Going in Opposite Directions. The article is below. Catherine Rubio from our Stafford office was referenced in the article. Kevin Breen and Claire Forcier-Rowe from our leadership team was also consulted on the article. It’s an interesting point of view, what are your thoughts?
BY BILL FREEHLING
The gap between housing prices in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties rose to a 10-year high in October by one measure. Stafford’s median sales price of $258,000 was 41 percent higher than Spotsylvania’s, according to data from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. That’s the highest percentage difference since 2000. That comes just two years after the gap between the region’s two most populous counties shrank to close to nothing. In November 2008, Stafford’s median price was just $159 more than Spotsylvania’s median of $219,841.
Since then Stafford’s housing prices have recovered while Spotsylvania’s continued to fall. Lately prices have stabilized in Spotsylvania, whose year-to-date median sales price is just 0.5 percent lower than in 2009. Stafford’s year-to-date median prices are up 6.5 percent over last year.
The $75,000 gap between Stafford and Spotsylvania last month wasn’t the highest absolute difference since 2000. In April 2006, the gap got as high as $91,950.
Stafford’s housing prices have traditionally been higher than Spotsylvania’s, a fact usually explained by its closer proximity to Washington amid a commuter culture. People are willing to pay higher prices to have a shorter drive to work.
Still, the abrupt turnaround from two years ago when sales prices were nearly identical in the two counties to last month’s 41 percent gap left area Realtors and housing scholars wondering what market forces were behind the new numbers.
Stafford’s heavy price drops and relatively quick recovery are probably related to the Prince William County market, said John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.
Prince William, which is just north of Stafford, experienced a huge foreclosure problem but has since largely recovered. Its median housing prices rose 13.6 percent in October from the year before, mirroring Stafford’s 17.3 percent rise.
Because Prince William is even closer to Washington, Stafford’s housing prices had to drop to compete with that market’s falling tallies during the worst of the economic recession. Now that Prince William has mostly recovered, Stafford has also.
The housing recovery has generally trickled down from Washington and should touch Spotsylvania as that trend continues, said Gene Bailey, president of the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance. But he said foreclosures are a wild card in the recovery.
Indeed, foreclosures appear to have played a role in Stafford’s higher prices. In Spotsylvania, 42 percent of the October housing sales through the Multiple Listing Service were foreclosures or short sales, according to MRIS, compared with 33 percent in Stafford.
The number of permits filed for new houses in the two counties reflects the strength of the two markets. More than double the number of building permits have been filed in Stafford this year compared with Spotsylvania, according to Northern Virginia housing analyst and Realtor Rosemary deButts.
McClain and deButts said the Stafford market has also been helped along by the thousands of new jobs coming to Fort Belvoir and the Quantico Marine Corps Base next year as part of BRAC. That impact can already be seen in North Stafford, which is seeing a good deal of commercial construction as businesses seek to cluster near incoming defense jobs.
To see local housing data back to 2000 and view a list of properties that sold in Stafford and Spotsylvania last month, go to the Business Browser blog on fredericksburg.com.