According to the National Association of Realtors, despite consistently low inventory levels and faster price growth, existing-home sales bounced back in February 2018 after two straight months of declines. Sizeable sales increases in the South and West offset declines in the Northeast and Midwest.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, grew 3.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million in February from 5.38 million in January. After last month's increase, sales are now 1.1 percent above a year ago.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sales were uneven across the country in February but did increase nicely overall. "A big jump in existing sales in the South and West last month helped the housing market recover from a two-month sales slump," he said. "The very healthy U.S. economy and labor market are creating a sizeable interest in buying a home in early 2018. However, even as seasonal inventory gains helped boost sales last month, home prices - especially in the West - shot up considerably. Affordability continues to be a pressing issue because new and existing housing supply is still severely subpar."
Added Yun, "The unseasonably cold weather to start the year muted pending sales in the Northeast and Midwest in January and ultimately led to their sales retreat last month. Looking ahead, several markets in the Northeast will likely see even more temporary disruptions from the large winter storms that have occurred in March."
The median existing-home price for all housing types in February was $241,700, up 5.9 percent from February 2017 ($228,200). February's price increase marks the 72nd straight month of year-over-year gains.
Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 4.6 percent to 1.59 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 8.1 percent lower than a year ago (1.73 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 33 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.4-month supply at the current sales pace (3.8 months a year ago).
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage moved higher for the fifth straight month to 4.33 percent in February (highest since 4.34 percent in April 2014) from 4.03 percent in January. The average commitment rate for all of 2017 was 3.99 percent
Properties typically stayed on the market for 37 days in February, which is down from 41 days in January and 45 days a year ago. Forty-six percent of homes sold in February were on the market for less than a month.
"Mortgage rates are at their highest level in nearly four years, at a time when home prices are still climbing at double the pace of wage growth," said Yun. "Homes for sale are going under contract a week faster than a year ago, which is quite remarkable given weakening affordability conditions and extremely tight supply. To fully satisfy demand, most markets right now need a substantial increase in new listings."
Realtor.com's Market Hotness Index, measuring time-on-the-market data and listings views per property, revealed that the hottest metro areas in February were San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.; Midland, Texas; Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.; and Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, Calif.
First-time buyers were 29 percent of sales in February, which is unchanged from last month and down from 31 percent a year ago. NAR's 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers - released in late 2017 - revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 34 percent.
NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall says first-time buyers are seeing stiff competition for the available listings in their price range. "Realtors in several markets note that entry-level homes for first-timers are hard to come by, which is contributing to their underperforming share of overall sales to start the year."
All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in February, which is up from 22 percent in January and the highest since last February (27 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 15 percent of homes in February, which is down from 17 percent in January and unchanged from a year ago.
Distressed sales - foreclosures and short sales - were 4 percent of sales in February, down from 5 percent in January and 7 percent a year ago. Three percent of February sales were foreclosures and 1 percent were short sales.
Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales
Single-family home sales rose 4.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.96 million in February from 4.76 million in January, and are now 1.8 percent above the 4.87 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $243,400 in February, up 5.9 percent from February 2017.
Existing condominium and co-op sales declined 6.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 580,000 units in February, and are now 4.9 percent below a year ago. The median existing condo price was $227,300 in February, which is 5.7 percent above a year ago.
February existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 12.3 percent to an annual rate of 640,000, and are now 7.2 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $258,900, which is 3.6 percent above February 2017.
In the Midwest, existing-home sales dipped 2.4 percent to an annual rate of 1.22 million in February (unchanged from a year ago). The median price in the Midwest was $179,400, up 4.5 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the South jumped 6.6 percent to an annual rate of 2.41 million in February, and are now 3.4 percent above a year ago. The median price in the South was $215,700, up 5.4 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West surged 11.4 percent to an annual rate of 1.27 million in February, and are now 2.4 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $370,600, up 9.6 percent from February 2017.