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Stat check: No, Jeb Bush, the average home in DC doesn't cost $800,000

Bush speaks in Pella, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 17.
Bush speaks in Pella, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 17.
Steve Pope/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Newly minted presidential candidate Jeb Bush claims that the typical home in Washington, DC, costs $800,000:

Leaving aside the ugly idea that DC residents ought to be significantly poorer, the stat here is wrong. According to RealEstate Business Intelligence (RBI) — a subsidiary of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which manages public listings in the DC area — the median sale price of a home in the DC metro area was $435,000 in May. In the District proper, excluding suburban Maryland and Virginia, it was slightly higher, at $560,000, which is still far below the figure Bush is citing. Falls Church comes closest, but the median is still not $800,000.

Median sales prices in various DC suburbs

Source: RealEstate Business Intelligence

Now, housing prices are somewhat seasonal, but the all-year statistics from 2014 — $405,750 for the metro area, $499,000 for the city — are way below Jeb's estimates as well.

Other home price estimates find the same thing. Zillow estimates that the city's median home value is $483,800. The census found that the "median value of owner-occupied housing units" in the city from 2009 to 2013 was $445,200. Trulia and Redfin's analyses of listings come up with similar numbers to RBI. Nothing backs up Jeb.

So what in the world is he talking about? I have two suspicions. One possibility is that he's looking at the average (not median) value of listings. The average listing price of a home in DC is $868,373 according to Trulia.

But this is a pretty misleading way to look at the housing market. The average listing price doesn't account for some factors that matter for housing affordability, and is affected by other factors that don't matter for affordability at all. If prices get bid down, that makes housing cheaper for people, but it doesn't show up in average listing prices. If lots of rich people are putting their homes on the market and leisurely waiting for the perfect buyer, that doesn't make housing more expensive for average DC residents, but it does drive up the average listing price. Moreover, average listing price is a mean figure, when you really want to be looking at medians here.

The other possibility is that Jeb is talking about houses specifically, not condos. According to RBI, the median single-family detached home in the DC area sold for $540,000 last month. But data RBI's Corey Hart provided me shows that detached single-family homes in the actual city of DC sold for an average of $737,495 last month — and $879,950 in April. In June 2014, the average was an astonishing $902,500. So if you only count literal houses, Jeb's figure makes a bit more sense. But leaving out condos and rowhouses — especially in a city as rowhouse-heavy as DC — is pretty strange.

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