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Existing-Home Sales Rise Again in January

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

WASHINGTON (February 23, 2011) - The uptrend in existing-home sales continues, with January sales rising for the third consecutive month with a pace that is now above year-ago levels, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in January from a downwardly revised 5.22 million in December, and are 5.3 percent above the 5.09 million level in January 2010. This is the first time in seven months that sales activity was higher than a year earlier.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the improvement is good but could be better. “The uptrend in home sales is consistent with improvements in the economy and jobs, which are helping boost consumer confidence,” Yun said. “The extremely favorable housing affordability conditions are a big factor, but buyers have been constrained by unnecessarily tight credit. As a result, there are abnormally high levels of all-cash purchases, along with rising investor activity.”

A parallel NAR practitioner survey2 shows first-time buyers purchased 29 percent of homes in January, down from 33 percent in December and 40 percent in January 2010 when an extended tax credit was in place.

Investors accounted for 23 percent of purchases in January, up from 20 percent in December and 17 percent in January 2010; the balance of sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales rose to 32 percent in January from 29 percent in December and 26 percent in January 2010.

“Increases in all-cash transactions, the investor market share and distressed home sales all go hand-in-hand. With tight credit standards, it’s not surprising to see so much activity where cash is king and investors are taking advantage of conditions to purchase undervalued homes,” Yun said.

All-cash purchases are at the highest level since NAR started measuring these purchases monthly in October 2008, when they accounted for 15 percent of the market. The average of all-cash deals was 20 percent in 2009, rising to 28 percent last year.

The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $158,800 in January, down 3.7 percent from January 2010. Distressed homes edged up to a 37 percent market share in January from 36 percent in December; it was 38 percent in January 2010.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said the median price is being dampened by unusual market factors. “Unprecedented levels of all-cash purchases, primarily of distressed homes sold at deep discounts, undoubtedly pulls the median price downward,” Phipps said. “Given the levels of inventory we see today, we believe that traditional homes in good condition have held their value.”

Total housing inventory at the end of January fell 5.1 percent to 3.38 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.6-month supply4 at the current sales pace, down from an 8.2-month supply in December. The inventory supply is at the lowest level since December 2009 when there was a 7.3-month supply.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.76 percent in January from 4.71 percent in December; the rate was 5.03 percent in January 2010.

Single-family home sales rose 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.69 million in January from 4.58 million in December, and are 4.9 percent higher than the 4.47 million level in January 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $159,400 in January, down 2.7 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 4.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 in January from 640,000 in December, and are 7.9 percent above the 621,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price5 was $154,900 in January, which is 10.2 percent below January 2010.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 4.6 percent to an annual pace of 830,000 in January from a spike in December and are 1.2 percent below January 2010. The median price in the Northeast was $236,500, which is 4.0 percent below a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 1.8 percent in January to a level of 1.14 million and are 3.6 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $126,300, which is 3.2 percent below January 2010.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 3.6 percent to an annual pace of 2.02 million in January and are 8.0 percent higher than January 2010. The median price in the South was $136,600, down 2.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West rose 7.9 percent to an annual level of 1.37 million in January and are 7.0 percent above January 2010. The median price in the West was $193,200, down 5.7 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.

Also released today are historic data revisions. Each February, NAR Research incorporates a normal review of seasonal activity factors and fine-tunes historic data for the past three years based on the most recent findings. Revisions have been made to monthly seasonally adjusted annual sales rates for 2008 through 2010, as well as the inventory month's supply data; most revisions are minor with little or no impact on previous characterizations of the overall market. There are no revisions to monthly home prices or raw inventory data (beyond normal prior-month revisions).

Note on Benchmark Revisions: All major statistical data series go through periodic reviews and revisions to ensure that sampling and methodology keep up with changes in the market, such as population changes in sampled areas, to ensure accuracy; we have been examining the existing-home sales data for any issues since late 2010. NAR began its normal process for benchmarking sales earlier this year; there will be no change to median prices. In the past we’ve benchmarked to the decennial Census, most recently to the 2000 Census, because it included home sales data. However, the data are no longer included in the Census, so we’re looking at more frequent benchmarking using a new approach with independent sources to improve our process and modeling. As always, we are consulting with various outside housing economists, government agencies and academic experts for a consensus on the methodology; NAR is committed to providing accurate, reliable data. Publication of the revisions is expected this summer.

2Distressed 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 March 14.

3The 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.

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 February will be released March 21, the Pending Home Sales Index for February is scheduled for March 28, and the 2010 Vacation and Investment Home study will be published March 30; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.

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.