Existing-Home Sales Rise In February

Existing-Home Sales Rise In February

Residential News » Residential Real Estate Edition | By NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS | March 23, 2009 10:13 AM ET

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Existing-home sales increased in February, reversing losses in January.  Even so, sales activity remains relatively soft, reflecting additional layoffs and buyers waiting for housing provisions in the economic stimulus package to take effect, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Existing-home sales - including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -  rose 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.72 million units in February from a pace of 4.49 million units in January, but are 4.6 percent below the 4.95 million-unit level in February 2008.  Seasonal adjustment factors are more volatile in winter months, but sales rates over the past few months show dampened sales activity.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said first-time buyers accounted for half of all home sales last month, with activity concentrated in lower price ranges.  "Because entry level buyers are shopping for bargains, distressed sales accounted for 40 to 45 percent of transactions in February," he said.  "Our analysis shows that distressed homes typically are selling for 20 percent less than the normal market price, and this naturally is drawing down the overall median price."

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $165,400 in February, down 15.5 percent from a year ago when the median was $195,800 and conditions were close to normal; the median is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.  "Given the downward distortion in price comparisons due to distressed sales, it's important for owners to keep in mind that this doesn't equate to a similar loss of value for traditional homes in good condition," Yun explained.

Yun said a recovery in the West is much stronger than expected.  "Strong sales gains in the West are led by California, where the median listing price is beginning to rise for the first time in three years," he said.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said home shopping activity has picked up with housing affordability at a record high.  "The number of buyers looking for homes rose 5 percent in February, and also was 5 percent above a year ago," he said.  "It appears most of the increase in buyer traffic occurred in the latter part of the month after the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit was put in place.  At the same time, mortgage purchase applications have risen, so we expect to see sales picking up around late spring."

McMillan noted that more potential buyers are learning about the tax credit, just as the traditional spring home-buying season begins. "In this changing market, smart buyers and sellers consult with Realtors who can advise them about current conditions in their area, and counsel them on the best way to move forward," he said.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage edged up to 5.13 percent in February from a record low 5.05 percent in January; the rate was 5.92 percent in February 2008.  Last month's average mortgage rate was the second lowest since data collection began in 1971.  Last week the rate further declined to 4.98 percent.

Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 5.2 percent to 3.80 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.7-month supply at the current sales pace, unchanged from January.  In the six months prior to February, the total number of homes for sale had steadily declined from a record level last July.

Single-family home sales rose 4.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.23 million in February from a level of 4.05 million in January, but are 3.6 percent below the 4.39 million-unit pace in February 2008.  The median existing single-family home price was $164,600 in February, down 15.0 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 11.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 490,000 units in February from 440,000 units in January, but are 13.1 percent lower than the 564,000-unit pace a year ago.  The median existing condo price was $172,200 in February, which is 18.7 percent lower than February 2008.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 15.6 percent to an annual pace of 740,000 in February, but are 14.9 percent below February 2008.  The median price in the Northeast was $251,200, down 4.8 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 1.0 percent in February to a pace of 1.04 million but are 14.0 percent lower than a year ago.  The median price in the Midwest was $131,000, which is 7.8 percent below February 2008.  

In the South, existing-home sales rose 6.1 percent to an annual pace of 1.74 million in February but are 11.2 percent below February 2008.  The median price in the South was $146,700, down 10.0 percent from a year ago.  

Existing-home sales in the West increased 2.6 percent to an annual rate of 1.20 million in February and remain 30.4 percent higher than a year ago.  The median price in the West was $204,600, which is 30.3 percent below February 2008.  

The National Association of Realtors, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of residential and commercial real estate industries.

For more real estate industry news and trends from the National Association of Realtors, visit

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