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Existing-Home Sales Decline in March but Inventory Down, Prices Stabilizing

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Existing-home sales were down in March but continue to outpace year-ago levels, while inventory tightened and home prices are showing further signs of stabilizing, 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, declined 2.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.48 million in March from an upwardly revised 4.60 million in February, but are 5.2 percent above the 4.26 million-unit pace in March 2011.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the recovery is in the process of settling into a higher level of home sales. “The recovery is happening though not at a breakout pace, but we have seen nine consecutive months of year-over-year sales increases,” he says. “Existing-home sales are moving up and down in a fairly narrow range that is well above the level of activity during the first half of last year. With job growth, low interest rates, bargain home prices and an improving economy, the pent-up demand is coming to market and we expect housing to be notably better this year.”

Total housing inventory at the end of March declined 1.3 percent to 2.37 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.3-month supply at the current sales pace, the same as in February. Listed inventory is 21.8 percent below a year ago and well below the record of 4.04 million in July 2007.

“We were expecting a seasonal increase in home listings, but a lack of inventory has suddenly become an issue in several markets with not enough homes for sale in relation to buyer interest,” Yun says. “Home sales could be held back because of supply factors and not by demand—we’re already seeing this in the Western states and in South Florida.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $163,800 in March, up 2.5 percent from March 2011. Distressed homes—foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts—accounted for 29 percent of March sales (18 percent were foreclosures and 11 percent were short sales), compared with 34 percent in February and 40 percent in March 2011.

Foreclosures typically sold for an average 19 percent below market price in March, while short sales were discounted 16 percent.

NAR President Moe Veissi says buyer traffic is up. “Our members are reporting an increase in foot traffic from a year ago, but more importantly, home shoppers this year are much more serious about finding the right home and making an offer,” he said. “Stabilizing home prices and historically favorable affordability conditions are giving buyers more confidence, and REALTORS® have become more optimistic since the beginning of the year from the positive shift in buyer patterns.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.95 percent in March, up from a record low 3.89 percent in February; the rate was 4.84 percent in March 2011; recordkeeping began in 1971.

All-cash sales slipped to 32 percent of transactions in March from 33 percent in February; they were 35 percent in March 2011. Investors account for the bulk of cash transactions.

Investors purchased 21 percent of homes in March, down from 23 percent in February and 22 percent in March 2011. First-time buyers accounted for 33 percent of transactions in March; they were 32 percent in February and 33 percent in March 2011.

Single-family home sales declined 2.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.97 million in March from 4.07 million in February, but are 5.9 percent above the 3.75 million-unit pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $163,600 in March, up 1.9 percent from March 2011.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 3.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 510,000 in March from 530,000 in February, and are unchanged from March 2011. The median existing condo price was $165,200 in March, which is 7.1 percent above a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 1.7 percent to an annual level of 580,000 in March but are 5.5 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $228,300, down 1.9 percent from March 2011.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest were unchanged in March at a pace of 1.02 million but are 15.9 percent above March 2011. The median price in the Midwest was $132,800, up 5.2 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales slipped 1.1 percent to an annual level of 1.75 million in March but are 3.6 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the South was $146,500, up 6.2 percent from March 2011.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 7.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.13 million in March and are 0.9 percent below March 2011. The median price in the West was $198,300, up 1.6 percent from a year ago.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

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