US Existing Home Sales Slow, Prices Rise

US Existing Home Sales Slow, Prices Rise

Residential News » North America Residential News Edition | By WPJ Staff | April 22, 2013 10:47 AM ET

The number of existing home sales dipped in March from the previous month, but prices continued to rise, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors.

The volume of sales slipped 0.6 percent from February, but was still 10.3 percent higher than March a year ago. NAR blamed the month-to-month drop on "inventory constraints," which also pushed up prices.

The national median price for an existing home was $184,300 in March, an 11.8 percent increase from the same month a year ago. The price increase was the largest year-over-year jump since November, 2005, NAR reports.

Prices have now risen year-over-year for 13 consecutive months.

"Buyer traffic is 25 percent above a year ago when we were already seeing notable gains in shopping activity," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said. "In the same timeframe housing inventories have trended much lower, which is continuing to pressure home prices."

The inventory of houses available for sale actually rose 1.6 percent in March from the previous month, but was still down 16.8 percent from a year ago. There is a 4.7-month supply of homes on the market at the current sales pace, compared to a 6.2-month supply a year ago.

"The good news is home construction is rising and low mortgage rates are continuing to keep affordability conditions at historically favorable levels," Mr. Yun said. "The bad news is that underwriting standards remain excessively tight, while renters are getting squeezed by higher rents."

Other key takeaways from the NAR report:

  • Distressed homes-foreclosures and short sales -accounted for 21 percent of March sales, down from 25 percent in February and 29 percent in March 2012. Thirteen percent of March sales were foreclosures, and 8 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15 percent below market value in March, while short sales were discounted 13 percent.

  • The median time on market for all homes was 62 days in March, down from 74 days in February and is 32 percent below 91 days in March 2012.  Short sales were on the market for a median of 81 days, while foreclosures typically sold in 46 days and non-distressed homes took 66 days.  Thirty-seven percent of all homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month.

  • First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in March, unchanged from February; they were 33 percent in March 2012.

  • All-cash sales were at 30 percent of transactions in March, down from 32 percent in February; they were 32 percent in March 2012.  Individual investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 19 percent of homes in March, down from 22 percent in February; they were 21 percent in March 2012.

  • Existing-home sales in the West declined 1.7 percent to a pace of 1.18 million in March but are 4.4 percent above a year ago.  With notably constrained inventory conditions, the median price in the West rose to $258,100, up 26.1 percent from March a year ago, the largest increase among U.S. regions.

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