March Existing-Home Sales Slip but First-Time Buyers Rise

Existing-home sales eased in March but first-time buyers are responding to low mortgage interest rates and tax credits, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing Home Sales, including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 3.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 4.57 million units in March from a downwardly revised level of 4.71 million in February, and were 7.1 percent lower than the 4.92 million-unit pace in March 2008.

NAR’s chief economist said the market appears to be stabilizing with modest monthly ups and downs, and that first-time buyers are driving the market. “The share of lower priced home sales has trended up, indicating a return of many first-time buyers, which we also see in a parallel member survey,” he said. “Sales in the upper price ranges remain stalled because of higher interest rates on jumbo loans.”

Although prices rose from February to March, the national median existing-home price2 for all housing types was $175,200, down 12.4 percent from March 2008. The price increase from February to March was 4.2 percent, which is much higher than the typical 1.8 percent seasonal increase between those two months. Distressed properties, which accounted for just over half of all transactions in March, typically are selling for 20 percent less than traditional homes.

An NAR practitioner survey in March showed first-time buyers accounted for 53 percent of transactions, based largely on contracts offered before the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit became available. “Buyer traffic has been rising, and real estate offices are getting phone inquires about the tax credit,” Yun said. “By early summer we should be seeing a positive impact on home sales from record-low mortgage interest rates in addition to the stimulus provisions.”

NAR’s President said first-time buyers are crucial at this stage of a housing recovery. “The housing market always heals from the bottom up, and with large numbers of first-time buyers entering the market it will become a little easier for sellers to trade up or down, according to their needs,” he said.

“Although homeownership builds wealth over the long term, buyers need to evaluate their options. In this market, buyers and sellers who use a Realtor® to represent them are making a smart move.

According to Freddie Mac, the average for a 30-year conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 5.00 percent in March from 5.13 percent in February; the rate was 5.97 percent in March 2008; data collection began in 1971.

“Record-high housing affordability conditions are helping markets recover, with home sales higher than a year ago in Minneapolis, Northern Virginia, Las Vegas, Phoenix and most areas of California and Florida.”

Total housing inventory at the end of March fell 1.6 percent to 3.74 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.8-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with a 9.7-month supply in February.

%d bloggers like this: