DC housing market now ‘dysfunctional’ — keeping agents on their toes

Unless you are trying to buy a home — or sell the one you have — all the news of what’s happening in the D.C.-area housing market may be just white noise. But the market has now tripped into what one real estate agent group calls “dysfunctional.”

Even keeping up with what’s happening may not be enough to prepare potential buyers and sellers for what to expect.

“It is one of the most unique markets I have seen and many of my colleagues have seen, and many of our clients have seen, more importantly,” said Avi Adler, president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. “We are dealing at the moment with very high interest rates in relation to two years ago. We are seeing historically low inventory levels to the point we haven’t seen in 20 years. And we are still seeing multiple offers in many cases.”

He added, “So, whether you’re a buyer or seller, and frankly it applies to both of them, you are expecting to potentially see a slowed market. But in reality, once you’re out there as a buyer or seller, there is still quite a bit of competition.”

Even so, in the week ending Sept. 3, the number of new contracts signed to purchase a house or a condo in the D.C. metro was down 19.9% from a year ago, according to listing service Bright MLS. In-person showings of listings by real estate agents were down 26.4% from this time last year.

In the District and Montgomery County, Maryland, the areas the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors represents, new listings were down 15.2% and 9%, respectively, from a year ago at the end of July.

That does not mean that work has slowed for real estate agents.

“The reality is, that even though there are far fewer buyers and even fewer sellers in the market, … we are still seeing multiple offers,” Adler said, which he attributed to the lack of inventory. The clients he works with are, in some cases, looking at three or four properties.

“So we are staying pretty busy,” he added.

The number of licensed and practicing real estate agents, which swelled during the pandemic with career pivots to the red-hot housing market, is expected to decline by 15% nationally. But likely not that much in the D.C. area.

“D.C. is unique. It is a transient town. It is a government town. We have administrations coming in and out,” Adler said. “We may see a 5 or 6 % reduction in membership for realtors, but not nearly at the level that we see on a national level.”

The National Association of Realtors lists about 2,900 member realtor agents in the District, down 7.5% from a year ago. The number of member realtor agents in Maryland is 28,000, which is down 4.3%, and 37,000 in Virginia, which is down 2.9%. The association counts 1.57 million members nationwide.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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