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Fourth Quarter Metro Area Home Prices Boost Affordability, Sales Improving

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

WASHINGTON (February 9, 2012) - Housing affordability conditions improved in most metropolitan areas from softer existing-home prices and record-low mortgage interest rates in the fourth quarter, with rising sales and lower inventory creating more balanced conditions, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors®.

Introduced with this release is a new annual metro-level housing affordability index, with historically favorable conditions dominating across the country.

The median existing single-family home price rose in 29 out of 149 metropolitan statistical areas1 (MSAs) in the fourth quarter from a year earlier; two were unchanged and 118 areas had price declines.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the figures reflect greater home sales activity at lower price points. “Sales have risen strongly in lower price ranges from one year ago, while sales at the upper end remain sluggish,” he said. “More importantly, we’re seeing a consistent trend of declining inventory, which means supply and demand conditions are becoming more balanced in more areas, which will help stabilize home prices.”

The national median existing single-family home price was $163,500 in the fourth quarter, down 4.2 percent from $170,600 in the fourth quarter of 2010. The median is where half sold for more and half sold for less. Distressed homes2 – foreclosures and short sales which sold at discounts averaging 15 to 20 percent – accounted for 30 percent of fourth quarter sales; they were 34 percent a year earlier.

Median price measurement reflects the types of homes that are selling during the quarter and can be skewed at times because the level of distressed sales, which artificially depress median prices, can vary notably in given markets. Annual price measures, also reported today, generally smooth out any quarterly swings.

“Broadly speaking, the very middle of the country, from the Dakotas and Nebraska to Oklahoma and Texas, has experienced very stable home price trends because of stronger job creation in those areas,” Yun said.

Total existing-home sales,3 including single-family and condo, increased 5.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.42 million in the fourth quarter from 4.17 million in the third quarter, and were 9.2 percent above the 4.04 million pace during the fourth quarter of 2010. All regions rose from the third quarter and from a year ago.

At the end of the fourth quarter there were 2.38 million existing homes available for sale, which is 21.2 percent lower than the close of the fourth quarter of 2010 when there were 3.02 million homes on the market.

NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said market conditions vary widely around the country. “Even with record high housing affordability conditions, all real estate is local,” he said. Both buyers and sellers need to be aware of what works in their local market, and Realtors® are the best resource because they have unparalleled knowledge of local market conditions and options.”

NAR’s national Housing Affordability Index rose to a record high 184.5 in 2011, based on the relationship between median home price, median family income and average mortgage interest rate. The higher the index, the greater the household purchasing power; recordkeeping began in 1970.

An index of 100 is defined as the point where a median-income household has exactly enough income to qualify for the purchase of a median-priced existing single-family home, assuming a 20 percent downpayment and 25 percent of gross income devoted to mortgage principal and interest payments. For first-time buyers making small downpayments, the affordability levels are relatively lower.

Metro areas with the greatest housing affordability conditions in 2011 include the Detroit-Warren-Livonia area of Michigan, with an index of 383.4; Toledo, Ohio, at 242.9; and Decatur, Ill., at 236.8. Only 24 out of 152 metros measured had an affordability index below 100 in 2011.

“Clearly, the Midwest has the greatest concentration of areas where home buyers have the strongest purchasing power, followed by the South,” Yun said. “Metros on the West Coast and along the Northeastern seaboard have generally higher-priced homes, which account for lower affordability.”

Between 2010 and 2011, in markets where comparisons are available, all but 2 out of 148 areas showed improvement in housing affordability, and 69 MSAs had double-digit increases in affordability conditions.

The share of all-cash home purchases in the fourth quarter was 29 percent, unchanged from the third quarter; they were 30 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. Investors, who are drawn by bargain prices and account for the bulk of cash purchases, accounted for 19 percent of transactions in the third quarter; they were 20 percent in the third quarter and 19 percent a year ago.

First-time buyers purchased 33 percent of homes in the fourth quarter; they were 32 percent in both the third quarter and the fourth quarter of 2010.

In the condo sector, metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 54 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $160,800 in the fourth quarter, which is 1.7 percent below the fourth quarter of 2010. Ten metros showed increases in their median condo price from a year ago, one was unchanged and 43 areas had declines.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter and are 3.7 percent above the fourth quarter of 2010. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast fell 4.6 percent to $229,200 in the fourth quarter from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales increased 7.0 percent in the fourth quarter and are 14.1 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest declined 3.3 percent to $134,100 in the fourth quarter from the fourth quarter in 2010.

Existing-home sales in the South rose 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter and are 9.1 percent above the same quarter in 2010. The median existing single-family home price in the South was $146,500 in the fourth quarter, down 3.8 percent from a year earlier.

Existing-home sales in the West increased 8.1 percent in the fourth quarter and are 8.4 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West declined 4.2 percent to $205,200 in the fourth quarter from the fourth quarter of 2010.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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NOTE: NAR releases quarterly median price data for approximately 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). In some cases the estimated MSA prices may not coincide with data released by state and local Realtor® associations. Any discrepancy may be due to differences in geographic coverage, product mix, and timing. In the event of discrepancies, Realtors® are advised that for specific business purposes, local data from their association may be more relevant.

Data tables for MSA home prices are posted at www.realtor.org/research/research/metroprice. For areas not covered in the tables, please contact the local association of Realtors®.

1Areas are generally metropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. A list of counties included in MSA definitions is available at: www.census.gov/population/estimates/metro-city/0312msa.txt.

Regional median home prices include rural areas and samples of many smaller metros that are not included in this report; the regional percentage changes do not necessarily parallel changes in the larger metro areas. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to seasonality in buying patterns. Quarter-to-quarter comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns.

NAR began tracking of metropolitan area median single-family home prices in 1979; the metro area condo price series dates back to 1989.

Because 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. As the reporting sample expands in the future, additional areas will be included in the condo price report.

2Distressed sales, first-time buyers, investors and all-cash transactions are from a survey for the Realtors® Confidence Index.

3The seasonally adjusted annual rate for a particular quarter represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative sales pace for that quarter was maintained for four consecutive quarters. Total home sales include single family, townhomes, condominiums and co-operative housing.

Seasonally adjusted rates are used in reporting quarterly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, sales volume normally is higher in the summer and relatively light in winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and household buying patterns.

NAR has discontinued the state-level home sales data series. NAR’s existing-home sales series will only be provided for the four major regions and for the nation; this method of reporting aligns with new-home sales releases by the U.S. Census Bureau and HUD. Most state and local associations of Realtors® are already providing this data for their service areas. Contact the state or local Realtor® association in your area for more information.

The relevant consumer information for home buying and selling is at a very localized level, and consumers can access such information from a local multiple listing service (MLS) by working with a Realtor®. Sales data from local Realtor® associations and MLSs are unambiguous in their intended purpose for the geographic areas and property types covered. Availability and format of data varies.

NAR may be able to furnish consultancy services to estimate state-by-state home sales data to analysts. The estimate will not be strictly based on Census benchmarking because of reliability issues at the state sample size, and hence, incorporate more expanded alternative data sources that account for FSBOs, etc., using a number of sources: the Census’ American Community Survey, data from Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, housing permits, and courthouse level data. For this consultancy-for-fee service, please contact Jed Smith at jsmith@realtors.org.

First quarter 2012 metro area home prices and quarterly existing-home sales will be released May 9 at 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.