Existing-Home Sales Decline in Economic Uncertainty

Existing-home sales weakened against a backdrop of an eroding economy, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – fell 8.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate¹ of 4.49 million units in November from a downwardly revised level of 4.91 million in October, and are 10.6 percent below the 5.02 million-unit pace in November 2007.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, expected a decline. “The quickly deteriorating conditions in the job market, stock market, and consumer confidence in October and November have knocked down home sales to another level. We hope the home sales impact from the stock market crash turns out to be short-lived, as was the case in 1987 and 2001,” he said.

“It is, therefore, imperative to provide incentives for homebuyers to get back into the market. It also depends on how effectively Congress and the new administration can help facilitate the short sales process and unclog the mortgage pipeline – impediments remain for some buyers with good credit,” Yun said.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 6.09 percent in November from 6.20 percent in October; the rate was 6.21 percent in November 2007. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year rate fell to 5.19 percent – the lowest on record since the series began in 1971.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said it’s crucial to enact sufficient housing stimulus to spark an economic recovery. “We need more than low interest rates to encourage enough buyers to enter the market and meaningfully draw down inventory, which would stabilize home prices – that, in turn, would help the economy to recover,” he said.

“We should extend the first-time buyer tax credit to all homebuyers and eliminate the repayment feature, and make permanent the higher loan limits that are vital in high-cost markets – the faster we do this, the faster housing and the economy can recover,” McMillan said.

McMillan said NAR is grateful that the Treasury, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Federal Reserve have been working to bring interest rates down on most mortgages to historic lows.

Total housing inventory at the end of November rose 0.1 percent to 4.20 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 11.2-month supply² at the current sales pace, up from a 10.3-month supply in October.

Despite an overall softening in sales, there has been a solid trend of rising activity in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida markets. “Sales are rising only in areas with large numbers of distressed properties as bargain hunters take advantage of discounted home prices,” Yun said.

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