Existing-Home Sales Up Again

Existing-home sales rose for the third consecutive month with inventory easing and home prices declining less sharply in June, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – increased 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 4.89 million units in June from a downwardly revised pace of 4.72 million in May, but are 0.2 percent lower than the 4.90 million-unit level in June 2008.

NAR’s chief economist is hopeful about the gain. “The increase in existing-home sales occurred in all major regions of the country,” he said. “We expect a gradual uptrend in sales to continue due to tax credit incentives and historically high affordability conditions. Despite the rise in closed transactions, many Realtors® are reporting lost sales as a result of new appraisal standards that went into effect May 1 of this year.”

A June survey of NAR members shows 37 percent experienced at least one lost sale as a result of the new Home Valuation Code of Conduct, with seven out of 10 reporting an increased use of out-of-area appraisers. Seventy percent of NAR appraiser members said consumers were paying higher fees, while 85 percent report a perceived reduction in appraisal quality.

“Clearly the process needs to be revised, but the most logical approach is to use appraisers with local expertise, industry designations and access to local data, who make a physical examination of the property and use apples-to-apples comparisons with nearby home sales,” Yun said. “In many cases, normal homes are being compared with distressed homes sold at a discount, which often are in subpar condition – this is causing real harm to both buyers and sellers.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 5.42 percent in June from 4.86 percent in May; the rate was 6.32 percent in June 2008. Mortgage interest rates have trended lower in recent weeks.

 “This is another hopeful sign – if we can keep the volume of sales above the level of new inventory, prices could stabilize in many areas around the end of the year,” Yun said.

An NAR practitioner survey in June showed first-time buyers accounted for 29 percent of transactions, unchanged from May, and that the number of buyers looking at homes is up nearly 12 percentage points from June 2008.

NAR’s President said there are very good opportunities. “Despite some of the challenges, the housing market continues to demonstrate signs of recovery,” he said. “The temporary first-time buyer tax credit is clearly helping people make a decision and is contributing to the overall stimulus impact, but since it’s taking longer to close transactions, many would-be beneficiaries may not be able to take advantage of the credit before the December 1 expiration date. As a consequence, consumers need the expertise of Realtors® more than ever to navigate both the obstacles and opportunities in today’s market.”

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 2.5 percent to an annual pace of 820,000 in June, but are 4.7 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $249,400, down 5.9 percent from June 2008.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 4.0 percent to an annual pace of 1.81 million in June but are 3.7 percent below a year ago. The median price in the South was $163,200, down 11.9 percent from June 2008.

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