Existing-home sales rose unexpectedly while inventory declined, led by a surge of sales in the West, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – jumped 6.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 4.74 million units in December from a downwardly revised pace of 4.45 million units in November, but are 3.5 percent below the 4.91 million-unit pace in December 2007.
For all of 2008 there were 4,912,000 existing-home sales, which was 13.1 percent below the 5,652,000 transactions recorded in 2007. This is the lowest volume since 1997 when there were 4,371,000 sales.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said home prices continue to fall significantly. “It appears some buyers are taking advantage of much lower home prices,” he said. “The higher monthly sales gain and falling inventory are steps in the right direction, but the market is still far from normal balanced conditions. Buyers will continue to have an edge over sellers for the foreseeable future.”
Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 11.7 percent to 3.68 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.3-month supply2 at the current sales pace, down from a 11.2-month supply in November.
Yun said the market is underperforming and hurting the broader economy. “We’ve added 25 million people to our population over the past decade and housing affordability conditions are the best we’ve seen since 1973, but household formation is much lower than expected,” he said. “Consequently, there is a pent-up demand which could be unleashed with the right stimulus, including a non-repayable home buyer tax credit. The Obama administration and Congress need to move fast to stimulate a spring sales upturn which will help to stabilize home prices and set the foundation for a sustainable economic recovery.”
The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $175,400 in December, which is 15.3 percent below December 2007 when the median was $207,000. There remains a significant downward distortion in the current median from a large number of distress sales at discounted prices, currently 45 percent of transactions; the median is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. For all of 2008, the median price was $198,600, down 9.3 percent from $219,000 in 2007.
NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said it’s an excellent time for first-time home buyers with good jobs. “The typical buyer plans to stay in their home for 10 years, which is the correct approach in today’s market,” he said. “With historically low mortgage interest rates, flexible sellers, a large inventory, and homes that are selling for less than replacement construction costs in much of the country, buyers who’ve been on the fence should take a closer look at today’s market.”
McMillan added that first-time buyers may want to consider an FHA loan, which offers downpayments of 3.5 percent on a safe 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.29 percent in December from 6.09 percent in November; the rate was 6.10 percent in December 2007. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year rate was 5.12 percent.
Single-family home sales rose 7.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.26 million in December from a level of 3.98 million in November, but are 1.4 percent below a 4.32 million-unit pace in December 2007. For all of 2008, single-family sales fell 11.9 percent to 4,349,000.
The median existing single-family home price was $174,700 in December, down 14.8 percent from a year ago. For all of 2008, the single-family median was $197,100, which is 9.5 percent below 2007.
Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 2.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 480,000 units in December from 470,000 in November, but are 18.4 percent below the 588,000-unit level a year ago. For all of 2008, condo sales dropped 21.0 percent to 563,000 units.
The median existing condo price4 was $181,400 in December, down 18.3 percent from December 2007. For all of 2008, the median condo price was $210,000, which is 7.2 percent below 2007.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast slipped 1.4 percent to an annual pace of 720,000 in December, and are 14.3 percent below December 2007. The median price in the Northeast was $235,000, which is 7.8 percent lower than a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 4.0 percent in December to a level of 1.04 million but are 10.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $140,800, down 11.4 percent from December 2007.
In the South, existing-home sales rose 7.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.74 million in December, but are 11.2 percent lower than December 2007. The median price in the South was $158,600, which is down 8.0 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West jumped 13.6 percent to an annual rate of 1.25 million in December and are 31.6 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the West was $213,100, down 31.5 percent from December 2007.
# # #
1The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.
Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings. This differs from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which generally account for 85 to 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample – more than 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.
2Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982. Condos were tracked quarterly prior to 1999 when single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases.
3The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if more data is received than was originally reported.
4Because there is a concentration of condos in high-cost metro areas, the national median condo price can be higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.
Existing-home sales for January – including monthly revisions to sales rates for the past three years – will be released February 25. Each February, NAR Research incorporates a review of seasonal activity factors and fine-tunes historic data for the previous three years based on the most recent findings. Revisions will made to monthly seasonally adjusted annual sales rates for 2006 through 2008, as well as the inventory month’s supply data. There will be no revisions to raw inventory or home prices aside from the normal prior month revisions.
The next Pending Home Sales Index & Forecast is scheduled for release February 3; release times are 10 a.m. EST. For more information, please visit: www.realtor.org/research/research/ehsdata