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December Existing-Home Sales Jump

Media Contact: Walter Molony / 202-383-1177 / Email

WASHINGTON (January 20, 2011) - Existing-home sales rose sharply in December, when sales increased for the fifth time in the past six months, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 12.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.28 million in December from an upwardly revised 4.70 million in November, but remain 2.9 percent below the 5.44 million pace in December 2009.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said sales are on an uptrend. “December was a good finish to 2010, when sales fluctuate more than normal. The pattern over the past six months is clearly showing a recovery,” he said. “The December pace is near the volume we’re expecting for 2011, so the market is getting much closer to an adequate, sustainable level. The recovery will likely continue as job growth gains momentum and rising rents encourage more renters into ownership while exceptional affordability conditions remain.”

The national median existing-home price2 for all housing types was $168,800 in December, which is 1.0 percent below December 2009. Distressed homes3 rose to a 36 percent market share in December from 33 percent in November, and 32 percent in December 2009.

“The modest rise in distressed sales, which typically are discounted 10 to 15 percent relative to traditional homes, dampened the median price in December, but the flat price trend continues,” Yun explained.

Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 4.2 percent to 3.56 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.1-month supply4 at the current sales pace, down from a 9.5-month supply in November.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said buyers are responding to very good affordability conditions despite tight mortgage credit. “Historically low mortgage interest rates, stable home prices, and pent-up demand are drawing home buyers into the market,” Phipps said. “Recent home buyers have been successful with very low default rates, given the outstanding performance for loans originated in 2009 and 2010.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.71 percent in December from 4.30 percent in November; the rate was 4.93 percent in December 2009.

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 33 percent of homes in December, up from 32 percent in November, but are below a 43 percent share in December 2009.

Investors accounted for 20 percent of transactions in December, up from 19 percent in November and 15 percent in December 2009; the balance of sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales were at 29 percent in December, compared with 31 percent in November, but up from 22 percent a year ago. “All-cash sales have been consistently high at about 30 percent of the market over the past six months,” Yun said.

Single-family home sales jumped 11.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.64 million in December from 4.15 million in November, but are 2.5 percent below the 4.76 million level in December 2009. The median existing single-family home price was $169,300 in December, down 0.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales surged 16.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 640,000 in December from 550,000 in November, but remain 5.2 percent below the 675,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price5 was $165,000 in December, which is 7.4 percent below December 2009.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 13.0 percent to an annual pace of 870,000 in December but are 5.4 percent below December 2009. The median price in the Northeast was $237,300, which is 1.4 percent below a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 11.0 percent in December to a level of 1.11 million but are 4.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $139,700, up 3.3 percent from December 2009.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 10.1 percent to an annual pace of 1.97 million in December but are 2.5 percent below December 2009. The median price in the South was $148,400, unchanged from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West surged 16.7 percent to an annual level of 1.33 million in December but remain 1.5 percent below December 2009. The median price in the West was $204,000, down 5.6 percent from a year ago.

The National Association of REALTORS®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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NOTE: NAR also tracks monthly comparisons of existing single-family home sales and median prices for select metropolitan statistical areas, which is posted with other tables at: www.realtor.org/research/research/ehsdata. For information on areas not included in the report, please contact the local association of REALTORS®.

1Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings. This differs from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which generally account for 85 to 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample – more than 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.

Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.

2The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if more data is received than was originally reported.

3Distressed sales, first-time buyers, investors, all-cash transactions and data for contract cancellations, etc., are from a survey for the REALTORS® Confidence Index, scheduled to be posted February 7.

4Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, condos were measured quarterly while single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions).

5Because there is a concentration of condos in high-cost metro areas, the national median condo price generally is higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.

Existing-home sales for January will be released February 23, and the next Pending Home Sales Index is scheduled for January 27; release times are 10:00 a.m. EST.

REALTOR® is a registered collective membership mark which may be used only by real estate professionals who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. Not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. All REALTORS® are members of NAR.

Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org. This and other news releases are posted in the News Media section. Statistical data in this release, other tables and surveys also may be found by clicking on Research.