May Existing-Home Sales Continue Rising Trend

Sales of existing homes showed another gain in May, benefiting from favorable affordability conditions and a first-time buyer tax credit, according to the National Association of Realtors®. May’s increase was the first back-to-back monthly gain since September 2005.

Existing Home Sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – rose 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 4.77 million units in May from a downwardly revised level of 4.66 million units in April, but remained 3.6 percent below the 4.95 million-unit pace in May 2008.

Yun, NAR’s chief economist expected an improvement. “Historically low mortgage interest rates clearly drew buyers into the market, and housing remains very affordable even with a recent uptick in rates,” he said. “First-time buyers also are being drawn off the sidelines by the $8,000 tax credit, which is helping to absorb inventory. However, the increase in sales is less than expected because poor appraisals are stalling transactions. Pending home sales indicated much stronger activity, but some contracts are falling through from faulty valuations that keep buyers from getting a loan.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage edged up to 4.86 percent in May from a record low 4.81 percent in April; the rate was 6.04 percent in May 2008. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed at 5.38 percent; data collection began in 1971.

Total housing inventory at the end of May fell 3.5 percent to 3.80 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.6-month supply2 at the current sales pace, down from a 10.1-month supply in April.

Yun said the appraisal problem is serious. “Lenders are using appraisers who may not be familiar with a neighborhood, or who compare traditional homes with distressed and discounted sales,” he said. “In the past month, stories of appraisal problems have been snowballing from across the country with many contracts falling through at the last moment. There is danger of a delayed housing market recovery and a further rise in foreclosures if the appraisal problems are not quickly corrected.”

An NAR practitioner survey in May showed first-time buyers accounted for 29 percent of transactions, and that the number of buyers looking at homes is nearly 10 percentage points higher than a year ago. “This is the time of year when we see large increases in the number of repeat buyers, who are benefitting from sales to entry-level buyers,” Yun said. “Investors appear less active, but are more prevalent in areas with large price corrections.”

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