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The Washington Scene

Slower Home Sales Keep Prices Stable

September 21, 1986|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

WASHINGTON — What's happening to the price of the home you might want to buy before the end of this year?

Not much. And that's good news for potential purchasers. The house-selling market has slowed down markedly in the last six weeks. Result? Prices of new houses have stabilized and asking prices of existing houses have softened a bit.

Two veterans of house selling in this area commented that sales of houses generally were moving slower early this month than they had in early summer. "We're back to reality," said one realtor. "This housing market is not sluggish, but now we get lookers but no buyers for the same sort of house that sold within a week for $142,000 in June."

Washington realtor Justin Hinders, whose own suburban Virginia house sold quickly in early July, said the housing market often tends to move in spurts.

"I get the distinct impression that our own house was priced just right for the market here, and that we were fortunate to turn up a prospective purchaser who needed five bedrooms and could afford to pay slightly more than $250,000," Hinders said. His split-level house appreciated more than $150,000 in 12 years.

Strong sales of both new and existing homes during the spring and early summer were triggered by the decline in mortgage rates and the plentitude of mortgage money. Well, mortgage money is still plentiful and rates are attractive.

But some potential buyers have been turned off by delays in getting mortgage approvals. Some of that problem was generated by the rush to refinance. Now the mortgage market seems to be returning to a more normal pace--simply because the sales of both new and existing homes have slowed.

Most of the houses currently being finished are being built for purchasers who made substantial deposits months ago. The inventory of completed new houses is at a relatively low level, simply because new home sales were exceptionally strong in the first six months of this year.

"We've learned not to build much ahead of our sales," Joseph Sprows, a sales executive, said, adding that depressed cities such as Houston and Denver have a plethora of unsold new houses "simply because a previously hot economy turned cold rather suddenly."

Is this a good time to buy?

"Every time the housing market takes a breather, the potential purchaser stands to benefit," said builder-developer Angelo Puglisi. "Builders and sellers are always more anxious to make a deal when they know that the market has softened.

"So, I'd tell my own son to find the right house and make an offer that isn't too ridiculously high or low--but first to go out and line up mortgage financing. It always helps to know how much house you can afford to buy before you make an offer."

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