Existing-Home Sales Show Strong Gain In December

Existing-home sales rose unexpectedly while inventory declined, led by a surge of sales in the West, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – jumped 6.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 4.74 million units in December from a downwardly revised pace of 4.45 million units in November, but are 3.5 percent below the 4.91 million-unit pace in December 2007.

For all of 2008 there were 4,912,000 existing-home sales, which was 13.1 percent below the 5,652,000 transactions recorded in 2007. This is the lowest volume since 1997 when there were 4,371,000 sales.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said home prices continue to fall significantly. “It appears some buyers are taking advantage of much lower home prices,” he said. “The higher monthly sales gain and falling inventory are steps in the right direction, but the market is still far from normal balanced conditions. Buyers will continue to have an edge over sellers for the foreseeable future.”

Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 11.7 percent to 3.68 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.3-month supply2 at the current sales pace, down from a 11.2-month supply in November.

Yun said the market is underperforming and hurting the broader economy. “We’ve added 25 million people to our population over the past decade and housing affordability conditions are the best we’ve seen since 1973, but household formation is much lower than expected,” he said. “Consequently, there is a pent-up demand which could be unleashed with the right stimulus, including a non-repayable home buyer tax credit. The Obama administration and Congress need to move fast to stimulate a spring sales upturn which will help to stabilize home prices and set the foundation for a sustainable economic recovery.”

The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $175,400 in December, which is 15.3 percent below December 2007 when the median was $207,000. There remains a significant downward distortion in the current median from a large number of distress sales at discounted prices, currently 45 percent of transactions; the median is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. For all of 2008, the median price was $198,600, down 9.3 percent from $219,000 in 2007.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said it’s an excellent time for first-time home buyers with good jobs. “The typical buyer plans to stay in their home for 10 years, which is the correct approach in today’s market,” he said. “With historically low mortgage interest rates, flexible sellers, a large inventory, and homes that are selling for less than replacement construction costs in much of the country, buyers who’ve been on the fence should take a closer look at today’s market.”

McMillan added that first-time buyers may want to consider an FHA loan, which offers down-payments of 3.5 percent on a safe 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.29 percent in December from 6.09 percent in November; the rate was 6.10 percent in December 2007. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year rate was 5.12 percent.

Single-family home sales rose 7.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.26 million in December from a level of 3.98 million in November, but are 1.4 percent below a 4.32 million-unit pace in December 2007. For all of 2008, single-family sales fell 11.9 percent to 4,349,000.

%d bloggers like this: