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House sold signExisting-home sales rose in October for the second straight month and are now above year-over-year levels for the first time in a year, 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, rose 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.26 million in October from an upwardly-revised 5.18 million in September. Sales are at their highest annual pace since September 2013 (also 5.26 million) and are now above year-over-year levels (2.5 percent from last October) for the first time since last October.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing market this year has been a tale of two halves. “Sales activity in October reached its highest annual pace of the year as buyers continue to be encouraged by interest rates at lows not seen since last summer, improving levels of inventory and stabilizing price growth,” he said. “Furthermore, the job market has shown continued strength in the past six months. This bodes well for solid demand to close out the year and the likelihood of additional months of year-over-year sales increases.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in October was $208,300, which is 5.5 percent above October 2013. This marks the 32nd consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of October fell 2.6 percent to 2.22 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.1-month supply at the current sales pace – the lowest since March (also 5.1 months). Unsold inventory is now 5.2 percent higher than a year ago, when there were 2.11 million existing homes available for sale.

“The growth in housing supply this year will likely prevent the drastic sales slowdown and coinciding spike in home prices we saw last winter due to low inventory,” says Yun. “However, more housing starts are needed to increase supply, meet current demand and keep price growth in check.”

All-cash sales were 27 percent of transactions in October, up from 24 percent in September but down from 31 percent in October of last year. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 15 percent of homes in October, up from 14 percent last month but below October 2013 (19 percent). Sixty-five percent of investors paid cash in October.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage in October dropped to 4.03 percent, its lowest level since June 2013 (4.07 percent), and down from 4.16 percent in September.

The percent share of first-time buyers in October remained at 29 percent for the fourth consecutive month; first-time buyers have represented less than 30 percent of all buyers in 18 of the past 19 months. A separate NAR survey released earlier this month revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers fell to its lowest level in nearly three decades.

Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales – were in the single-digits for the third month this year, decreasing to 9 percent in October from 10 percent in September; they were 14 percent a year ago. Seven percent of October sales were foreclosures and 2 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15 percent below market value in October (14 percent in September), while short sales were discounted 10 percent (14 percent in September).

“Although distressed sales are trending downward, there are still areas (such as judicial states Florida, Maryland and New York) plagued by foreclosures, and homeowners faced with the awful choice between a tax bill they are unable to pay and losing their home,” says NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark. “Realtors® urge the U.S. House to schedule a vote on “The Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act,” as soon as possible. This bipartisan legislation would extend an expired provision that has helped millions of distressed American families by allowing tax relief when lenders forgive a portion of the mortgage debt they owe.”

Properties typically stayed on the market in October longer (63 days) than last month (56 days) and a year ago (54 days). Short sales were on the market for a median of 150 days in October, while foreclosures sold in 68 days and non-distressed homes took 61 days. Thirty-three percent of homes sold in October were on the market for less than a month.

Single-family home sales increased 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.63 million in October from 4.57 million in September, and are now 2.9 percent above the 4.50 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $208,700 in October, up 5.6 percent from October 2013.

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