December Existing-Home Sales Down but Prices Rise; 2009 Sales Up

After a rising surge from September through November, existing-home sales fell as expected in December after first-time buyers rushed to complete sales before the original November deadline for the tax credit. However, prices rose from December 2008 and annual sales improved in 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – fell 16.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 5.45 million units in December from 6.54 million in November, but remain 15.0 percent above the 4.74 million-unit level in December 2008.

For all of 2009 there were 5,156,000 existing-home sales, which was 4.9 percent higher than the 4,913,000 transactions recorded in 2008; it was the first annual sales gain since 2005.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said there were no surprises in the data. “It’s significant that home sales remain above year-ago levels, but the market is going through a period of swings driven by the tax credit,” he said. “We’ll likely have another surge in the spring as home buyers take advantage of the extended and expanded tax credit. By early summer the overall market should benefit from more balanced inventory, and sales are on track to rise again in 2010. However, the job market remains a concern and could dampen the housing recovery – job creation is key to a continued recovery in the second half of the year.”

NAR practitioner survey2 shows first-time buyers purchased 43 percent of homes in December, down from 51 percent in November. Repeat buyers rose to 42 percent of transactions in December from 37 percent in November; the remaining sales were to investors.

The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $178,300 in December, which is 1.5 percent higher than December 2008. “The median price rose because of an increased number of mid- to upper-priced homes in the sales mix,” Yun said. It was the first year-over-year gain in median price since August 2007.

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