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Existing-Home Sales Rise Again in January, Inventory Down

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Existing-home sales rose in January, marking three gains in the past four months, while inventories continued to improve, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 4.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million in January from a downwardly revised 4.38 million-unit pace in December and are 0.7 percent above a spike to 4.54 million in January 2011.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said strong gains in contract activity in recent months show buyers are responding to very favorable market conditions. “The uptrend in home sales is in line with all of the underlying fundamentals— pent-up household formation, record-low mortgage interest rates, bargain home prices, sustained job creation and rising rents.”

Total housing inventory at the end of January fell 0.4 percent to 2.31 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 6.4-month supply in December.

“The broad inventory condition can be described as moving into a rough balance, not favoring buyers or sellers,” Yun says. “Foreclosure sales are moving swiftly with ready home buyers and investors competing in nearly all markets. A government proposal to turn bank-owned properties into rentals on a large scale does not appear to be needed at this time.”

Total unsold listed inventory has trended down from a record 4.04 million in July 2007, and is 20.6 percent below a year ago.

NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said buying power is enticing more potential home buyers. “Word has been spreading about the record high housing affordability conditions and our members are reporting an increase in foot traffic compared with a year ago,” he said. “With other favorable market factors, these are hopeful indicators leading into the spring home-buying season. We’re cautiously optimistic that an uptrend will continue this year.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was a record low 3.92 percent in January, down from 3.96 percent in December; the rate was 4.76 percent in January 2011; recordkeeping began in 1971.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $154,700 in January, down 2.0 percent from January 2011. Distressed homes—foreclosures and short sales which sell at deep discounts—accounted for 35 percent of January sales (22 percent were foreclosures and 13 percent were short sales), up from 32 percent in December; they were 37 percent in January 2011.

“Home buyers over the past three years have had some of the lowest default rates in history,” Yun says. “Entering the market at a low point and buying at discounted prices have greatly helped in that success.”

All-cash sales were unchanged at 31 percent in January; they were 32 percent in January 2011. Investors account for the bulk of cash transactions.

Investors purchased 23 percent of homes in January, up from 21 percent in December; they were 23 percent in January 2011. First-time buyers rose to 33 percent of transactions in January from 31 percent in December; they were 29 percent in January 2011.

Forty-seven percent of NAR members report that contracts settled on time in January; 21 percent had delays and 33 percent experienced contract failures. Contract cancellations are unchanged from December but were only 9 percent in January 2011; they are caused largely by declined mortgage applications and failures in loan underwriting from appraisals coming in below the negotiated price.

Single-family home sales rose 3.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.05 million in January from 3.90 million in December, and are 2.3 percent above the 3.96 million-unit pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $154,400 in January, down 2.6 percent from January 2011.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 8.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 520,000 in January from 480,000 in December but are 10.3 percent lower than the 580,000-unit level in January 2011. The median existing condo price was $156,600 in January, up 2.0 percent from a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 3.4 percent to an annual pace of 600,000 in January and are 7.1 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $225,700, which is 4.2 percent below January 2011.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 1.0 percent in December to a level of 980,000 and are 3.2 percent higher than January 2011. The median price in the Midwest was $122,000, down 3.9 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 3.5 percent to an annual level of 1.76 million in January but are unchanged from a year ago. The median price in the South was $134,800, which is 0.3 percent below January 2011.

Existing-home sales in the West jumped 8.8 percent to an annual pace of 1.23 million in January but are 3.1 percent below a spike in January 2011. The median price in the West was $187,100, down 1.8 percent from a year ago.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

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