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June Existing-Home Sales Slip on Contract Cancellations, but Prices Stabilize

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

WASHINGTON (July 20, 2011) - Existing-home sales eased in June as contract cancellations spiked unexpectedly, although prices were up slightly, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Sales gains in the Midwest and South were offset by declines in the Northeast and West. Single-family home sales were stable while the condo sector weakened.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million in June from 4.81 million in May, and remain 8.8 percent below the 5.23 million unit level in June 2010, which was the scheduled closing deadline for the home buyer tax credit.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said this is an uneven recovery. “Home sales had been trending up without a tax stimulus, but a variety of issues are weighing on the market including an unusual spike in contract cancellations in the past month,” he said. “The underlying reason for elevated cancellations is unclear, but with problems including tight credit and low appraisals, 16 percent of NAR members report a sales contract was cancelled in June, up from 4 percent in May, which stands out in contrast with the pattern over the past year.”

Yun cited other factors in the sales performance. “Pending home sales were down in April but up in May, so we may be seeing some of that mix in closed sales for June. However, economic uncertainty and the federal budget debacle may be causing hesitation among some consumers or lenders.”

The national median existing-home price2 for all housing types was $184,300 in June, up 0.8 percent from June 2010. Distressed homes3 – foreclosures and short sales generally sold at deep discounts – accounted for 30 percent of sales in June, compared with 31 percent in May and 32 percent in June 2010.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.51 percent in June, down from 4.64 percent in May; the rate was 4.74 percent in June 2010.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said home sales should be higher. “With record high housing affordability conditions thus far in 2011, we’d normally expect to see stronger home sales,” he said. “Even with job creation below expectations, excessively tight loan standards are keeping many buyers from completing deals. Although proposals being considered in Washington could effectively put more restrictions on lending, some banking executives have hinted that credit may return to more normal, safe standards in the not-too-distant future, but the tardiness of this process is holding back the recovery.”

Phipps added that lower mortgage loan limits, due to go into effect on October 1, already are having an impact. “Some lenders are placing lower loan limits on current contracts in anticipation they may not close before the end of September. As a result, some contracts may be getting cancelled because certain buyers are unwilling or unable to obtain a more costly jumbo mortgage,” he said.

Total housing inventory at the end of June rose 3.3 percent to 3.77 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.5-month supply4 at the current sales pace, up from a 9.1-month supply in May.

All-cash transactions accounted for 29 percent of sales in June; they were 30 percent in May and 24 percent in June 2010; investors account for the bulk of cash purchases.

First-time buyers purchased 31 percent of homes in June, down from 36 percent in May; they were 43 percent in June 2010 when the tax credit was in place. Investors accounted for 19 percent of purchase activity in June, unchanged from May; they were 13 percent in June 2010.

The balance of sales was to repeat buyers, which were a 50 percent market share in June, up from 45 percent in May, which appears to be a normal seasonal gain.

Single-family home sales were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.24 million in June, but are 7.4 percent below a 4.58 million pace in June 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $184,600 in June, up 0.6 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 7.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 530,000 in June from 570,000 in May, and are 18.0 percent below the 646,000-unit level a year ago. The median existing condo price5 was $182,300 in June, up 1.8 percent from June 2010.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 5.2 percent to an annual pace of 730,000 in June and are 17.0 percent below June 2010. The median price in the Northeast was $261,000, up 3.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 1.0 percent in June to a pace of 1.04 million but are 14.0 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $147,700, down 5.3 percent from June 2010.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 0.5 percent to an annual level of 1.86 million in June but are 5.6 percent below June 2010. The median price in the South was $159,100, down 0.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West declined 1.7 percent to an annual pace of 1.14 million in June and are 2.6 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $240,400, up 9.5 percent from June 2010.

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.

Update 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. NAR began its normal process for benchmarking sales at the beginning of this year in consultation with government agencies, outside housing economists and academic experts; there will be no change to median prices. Although there will be a downward revision to sales volumes, there will be no notable change to previous characterizations of the market in terms of sales trends, monthly percentage changes, etc.

In the past NAR has 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’ve had to develop a new approach with an independent source to improve methodology and to permit more frequent revisions.

Preliminary data based on the new benchmark is expected to be available for review in August. This process is expected to take some time before finalized revisions can be published to address any issues that may surface in the review process and to update monthly seasonal adjustment factors; NAR is committed to providing accurate, reliable data. Publication of the revisions is not likely before this fall, but we expect to provide a notice one month in advance of the publication date.

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, contract cancellations and all-cash transactions are from a monthly survey for the Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.

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 often is higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.

The Pending Home Sales Index for June will be released July 28, and existing-home sales for July is scheduled for August 18; 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.

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.