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Existing-Home Sales Remain Soft in March

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existing_home_saleExisting-home sales were essentially flat in March, while the growth in home prices moderated, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Sales gains in the Northeast and Midwest were offset by declines in the West and South.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, slipped 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million in March from 4.60 million in February, and are 7.5 percent below the 4.96 million-unit pace in March 2013. Last month’s sales volume remained the slowest since July 2012, when it was 4.59 million.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says that current sales activity is underperforming by historical standards. “There really should be stronger levels of home sales given our population growth,” he says. “In contrast, price growth is rising faster than historical norms because of inventory shortages.”

Yun expects some improvement in the months ahead. “With ongoing job creation and some weather delayed shopping activity, home sales should pick up, especially if inventory continues to improve and mortgage interest rates rise only modestly.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in March was $198,500, up 7.9 percent from March 2013. Distressed homes3 – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 14 percent of March sales, down from 16 percent in February and 21 percent in March 2013. “With rising home equity, we expect distressed homes to decline to a single-digit market share later this year,” Yun says.

Ten percent of March sales were foreclosures, and 4 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 18 percent below market value in March, while short sales were discounted 12 percent.

Total housing inventory4 at the end of March rose 4.7 percent to 1.99 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 5.0 months in February. Unsold inventory is 3.1 percent above a year ago, when there was a 4.7-month supply.

The median time on market for all homes was 55 days in March, down from 62 days in February, and also 62 days on market in March 2013. Short sales were on the market for a median of 112 days in March, while foreclosures typically sold in 55 days and non-distressed homes took 53 days. Thirty-seven percent of homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month.

Marketwatch also recently released information on the decline of existing homes, expressing that sale rates have trended down, and are currently at the slowest documented pace since summer of 2012.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.34 percent in March from 4.30 percent in February; the rate was 3.57 percent in March 2013.

First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in March, up from 28 percent in February; they were 30 percent in March 2013.

NAR President Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate, Inc., REALTORS® in Dayton, Ohio, says first-time buyers have been stuck in a rut. “There are indications that the stringent mortgage underwriting standards are beginning to ease a bit, particularly regarding credit score requirements, but they remain a headwind for entry-level and single-income home buyers,” he says.

“We also have tight inventory in the lower price ranges where many starter homes are found, but rising new-home construction means some owners will be trading up and more existing homes will be added to the inventory. Hopefully, this will create more opportunities for first-time buyers,” Brown says.

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