Are There No Homes for Sale in DC?

by Mark Wellborn

Are There No Homes for Sale in DC?: Figure 1

The real estate article that has blogs abuzz in DC today is a piece from The Atlantic’s Megan McCardle in which she puts forth the case that DC has no decent homes for sale.

A frustrated McCardle has been looking for a house to buy in DC for some time and is fed up with the lack of inventory. She makes some valid points regarding how quickly quality units are snatched up these days (true) and the fact that many sellers are pricing their homes higher than the market so that they can get a return on their investment (probably true). Then McCardle loses us as she starts lamenting the “copious rights under DC housing law” that benefit tenants and how these laws are preventing buyers from viewing homes they may be interested in. (If this is a problem, it is certainly not as widespread as she thinks.)

In short, McCardle’s thesis is probably right, but it is an issue that home buyers in DC have been dealing with for months.

In January, Janelle Nanos wrote a piece for UrbanTurf on the city’s housing scarcity, interviewing a number of buyers who were generally frustrated with the selection of available housing in DC, and for good reason. The article noted that the DC housing inventory was at its lowest point in the past three years, down from a high of 31,018 homes in May of last year to 22,260 in January. In his latest analysis of DC’s housing market, Ketith Gibbons reports there was a 7.41-month supply of condos and 4.67-month supply of homes listed for sale in DC in March, down from a 9.25-month supply of condos and 7.05-month supply for houses in February. So, statistically, DC is either in the midst of a housing shortage or on the verge.

Our advice is this: If you see something you really like, make an offer ASAP. But also, get out of the Northwest comfort zone a little bit and explore neighborhoods that wouldn’t be first on your list. There are some good homes for sale in DC — they just may not be a stone’s throw from your favorite bar.

See other articles related to: editors choice, dclofts, dc area market trends

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/are_there_no_homes_for_sale_in_dc/1972


  1. KstreetQB said at 7:54 pm on Tuesday April 13, 2010:
    In my personal year-long house search, I only ever ran into one problem where I couldn't see a basement apartment because of a current tennant. There are fantastic homes for sale in DC (the deal of the week for example), but you do have to have a nice stack of dough to buy most of them in NW. Particularly in the gentrifying neighborhoods, you can pick up a fixer-upper for hundreds of thousands less than an updated unit.
  1. Julie said at 8:05 pm on Tuesday April 13, 2010:
    Mark, great analysis and stats. If McCardle had used those her case would've been much stronger. Overall, I agree with you and think that certain sections of DC have a severe housing shortage, but if you do not limit your search to NW, there are some great opportunities.
  1. Jordan said at 9:37 pm on Tuesday April 13, 2010:
    6 months supply is the generally accepted line between a buyers market and sellers market. Based on that rule of thumb, DC is currently a sellers market for anyone selling a home, and for condo owners DC is very close to being a sellers market too! That will most likely put upward pressure on prices over the short term.
  1. Emil Ali said at 11:33 pm on Tuesday April 13, 2010:
    As anyone who invests in a home, whether as an investor or an owner-occupier, you are hoping to get a return on investment. There will never be a large amount of homes on them market during a decent economic climate in an urban city like DC. This is true because people will be living in these homes or renting them out. McCardle should look slightly further from the metro or in non-traditional areas and she'll find hundreds of SFRs. Further, most tenants would agree to showing you the house if it is listed in their lease and many times it is. Also, if you are moving into the home and making it your primary residence, you would generally be able to ask the tenant to leave with proper notice. Either way, buying a home should not be rushed. Sadly, many irresponsible listing agents, especially for short sales and REOs, tend to not upload pictures to the MLS and thus many people don't consider them. Also, drive around DC and look at neighborhoods that you see on the MLS, you will be surprised by diamonds in the rough. When I looked for my house, I wanted off street parking but after driving around and seeing my neighborhood having ample parking, I was sold and gave up on that requirement. Lastly, and quite frankly, don't complain. Home ownership is not for everyone and it is almost a market correction. It generally is not for the resident staying only for a year or the busy professional that doesn't want to maintain a house. Maybe a condo might work. Even so, the market is ever-changing and requires research and patience.
  1. Keith said at 3:44 am on Wednesday April 14, 2010:
    The market she describes today is the market that existed last year when I was looking to buy a house. Then, houses that were updated and move-in ready sold in a week. If they weren't, they didn't. Quite frankly, few houses were "updated and move-in ready" last year and I doubt that's changed. Another option is to buy the less than perfect and make it perfect. That's what I did. It's amazing what a $3500 reglazing and new toilet/sink can do to a 1960 pink tiled bathroom with matching toilet and sink.
  1. frank said at 5:12 am on Wednesday April 14, 2010:
    Is anyone having a problem with the RSS feed? I haven't got any updates since April 2nd...using Safari as my reader.
  1. Will Smith said at 2:53 pm on Wednesday April 14, 2010:
    Frank, I've looked into this but can't find a problem. But I am on a PC and so don't have Safari to check. Can you contact me over email? will@urbanturf.com. Thanks, Will Smith Publisher, UrbanTurf
  1. jj said at 4:12 pm on Wednesday April 14, 2010:
    we looked for some time before finding something i considered acceptable. i did go near my comfort zone dollar wise but got the location (if you use Mark's "stones throw away from your favorite bar" marker). however, i consider stumble distance to be priceless.

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