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Good News for Real Estate? Largest Monthly Home Sale Percentage Increase in 5 Years Reported

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RISMEDIA, Oct. 27, 2008-Due to falling real estate prices and rising foreclosures on the West Coast, sales of existing homes rose to its highest level in 13 months and highest percentage increase in five years, according to a report issued today by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The increase resulted from buyers responding to improved housing affordability conditions, the organization stated.

Existing-home sales-including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops-rose 5.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.18 million units in September from a level of 4.91 million in August, and are 1.4% higher than the 5.11 million-unit pace in September 2007.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said more markets are seeing year-over-year gains. “The sales turnaround which began in California several months ago is broadening now to Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Rhode Island,” he said. “The South was hampered by much lower home sales in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.”

NAR President Richard F. Gaylord, a broker with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif., said low home prices and low interest rates have been attracting buyers. “This is the first time since November 2005 that home sales have been above year-ago levels,” he said. “Credit tightened at the end of September, but the improvement demonstrates that buyers who’ve been on the sidelines want to get into the market to make a long-term investment in their future.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 6.04% in September from 6.48% in August; the rate was 6.38% in September 2007.

Yun said there may be market disruptions. “The credit markets are not settled yet, although the mortgage market stabilized with the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Inventory remains high, and price declines are pressuring owners,” he said. “Additional housing stimulus would stabilize prices more quickly, which in turn would bring faster stability to Wall Street. Removing the repayment feature on the first-time buyer tax credit and permanently raising loan limits would bring more buyers into the market and further reduce inventory.”

Total housing inventory at the end of September fell 1.6% to 4.27 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.9-month supply² at the current sales pace, down from a 10.6-month supply in August. This marks two consecutive monthly declines since inventories peaked in July.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $191,600 in September, down 9.0% from a year ago when the median was $210,500. “Compared to a fairly small share of foreclosures or short sales a year ago, distressed sales are currently 35 to 40% of transactions. These are pulling the median price down because many are being sold at discounted prices,” Yun explained. “The current market is not being dominated by speculative investors. Rather, 80% of current buyers are purchasing a primary residence, which is a bit higher than historic norms.”

Single-family home sales increased 6.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million in September from a pace of 4.35 million in August, and are 3.8% above the 4.45 million-unit level a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $190,600 in September, which is 8.6% below September 2007.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units in September, but are 15.7% below the 664,000-unit pace in September 2007. The median existing condo price4 was $199,400 in September, down 10.2% from a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the West jumped 16.8% to an annual rate of 1.25 million in September, and are 34.4% higher than September 2007. The median price in the West was $253,600, down 18.5% from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales increased 4.4% to an annual pace of 1.19 million in September, but are 2.5% below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $152,500, which is 7.9% lower than September 2007.

Existing-home sales in the South rose 2.2% in September to a pace of 1.90 million but remain 7.8% below September 2007. The median price in the South was $167,200, down 4.1% from a year ago.

In the Northeast, existing-home sales slipped 1.2% to an annual pace of 840,000 in September, and are 7.7% lower than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $246,800, down 5.4% from September 2007.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org/.

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