According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), existing-home sales rose strongly in May 2014 as inventory gains continued to help moderate price growth. All four regions of the country experienced sales gains compared to a month earlier.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 4.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million in May from an upwardly-revised 4.66 million in April, but remain 5.0 percent below the 5.15 million-unit level in May 2013. The 4.9 percent month-over-month gain in May was the highest monthly rise since August 2011 (5.5 percent).
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said current sales activity is rebounding after the lackluster first quarter. "Home buyers are benefiting from slower price growth due to the much-needed, rising inventory levels seen since the beginning of the year," he said. "Moreover, sales were helped by the improving job market and the temporary but slight decline in mortgage rates."
Total housing inventory at the end of May climbed 2.2 percent to 2.28 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down slightly from 5.7 months in April. Unsold inventory is 6.0 percent higher than a year ago, when there were 2.15 million existing homes available for sale.
The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $213,400, which is 5.1 percent above May 2013. "Rising inventory bodes well for slower price growth and greater affordability, but the amount of homes for sale is still modestly below a balanced market. Therefore, new home construction is still needed to keep prices and housing supply healthy in the long run," Yun added.
Earlier this month, NAR reported new home construction activity is currently insufficient in most of the U.S., and some states could face persistent housing shortages and affordability issues unless housing starts increase to match up with local job creation.
Distressed homes - foreclosures and short sales - accounted for 11 percent of May sales, down from 18 percent in May 2013. Eight percent of May sales were foreclosures and three percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 18 percent below market value in May, while short sales were discounted 11 percent.
The percent share of first-time buyers continued to underperform, representing less than one-third of all buyers at 27 percent in May, down from 29 percent in April; they were 29 percent in April 2013.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 4.19 percent in May from 4.34 percent in April, and is the lowest since June 2013 (4.07 percent).
NAR President Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate, Inc., Realtors® in Dayton, Ohio, said housing fundamentals are showing slight improvement in markets across the country. "Many potential buyers were left on the sidelines beginning last summer as affordability declined amidst rising home prices and interest rates," he said. "The temporary pause in rising interest rates and more homes for sale is good news - especially for first-time home buyers - who likely have a better chance in upcoming months to make a competitive offer that's in return accepted by the seller."
The median time on market for all homes was 47 days in May, down from 48 days in April; it was 41 days on market in May 2013. Short sales were on the market for a median of 125 days in May, while foreclosures typically sold in 57 days and non-distressed homes took 44 days. Forty-one percent of homes sold in May were on the market for less than a month.
All-cash sales comprised 32 percent of transactions in May, unchanged from last month and down from 33 percent in May 2013. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 16 percent of homes in May, down from 18 percent in April; they were 18 percent in May 2013. Sixty-eight percent of investors paid cash in May.
Single-family home sales rose 5.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.30 million in May from 4.07 million in April, but remain 5.7 percent below the 4.56 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $213,600 in May, up 4.9 percent from May 2013.
Existing condominium and co-op sales remained unchanged in May from April (as well as May 2013) at an annual rate of 590,000 units. The median existing condo price was $212,300 in May, which is 6.6 percent higher than a year ago.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 3.3 percent to an annual rate of 620,000 in May, but are 3.1 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $256,700, down 0.9 percent from May 2013.
In the Midwest, existing-home sales jumped 8.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.13 million in May, but are still 7.4 percent below May 2013. The median price in the Midwest was $165,900, up 4.0 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the South increased 5.7 percent to an annual level of 2.05 million in May, but are down 0.5 percent from May 2013. The median price in the South was $184,800, up 4.4 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West rose 0.9 percent to an annual rate of 1.09 million in May, and are 11.4 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $297,500, which is 8.4 percent above May 2013.