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September Existing-Home Sales Down but Prices Continue to Improve

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

WASHINGTON (October 19, 2012) - September existing-home sales declined modestly, but inventory continued to tighten and the national median home price recorded its seventh back-to-back monthly increase from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.75 million in September from an upwardly revised 4.83 million in August, but are 11.0 percent above the 4.28 million-unit pace in September 2011.

Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist, said the market trend is up. "Despite occasional month-to-month setbacks, we're experiencing a genuine recovery," he said. "More people are attempting to buy homes than are able to qualify for mortgages, and recent price increases are not deterring buyer interest. Rather, inventory shortages are limiting sales, notably in parts of the West."

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 3.47 percent in September from 3.60 percent in August; the rate was 4.11 percent in September 2011.

The national median existing-home price2 for all housing types was $183,900 in September, up 11.3 percent from a year ago. The last time there were seven consecutive monthly year-over-year increases was from November 2005 to May 2006.

Distressed homes3 - foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts - accounted for 24 percent of September sales (13 percent were foreclosures and 11 percent were short sales), up from 22 percent in August; they were 30 percent in September 2011. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 21 percent below market value in August, while short sales were discounted 13 percent.

Total housing inventory at the end September fell 3.3 percent to 2.32 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.9-month supply 4 at the current sales pace, down from a 6.0-month supply in August. Listed inventory is 20.0 percent below a year ago when there was an 8.1-month supply.

"The shrinkage in housing supply is supporting ongoing price growth, a pattern that could accelerate unless home builders robustly ramp up production," Yun said.

The median time on market was 70 days in September, unchanged from August, but down 30.7 percent from 101 days in September 2011. Thirty-two percent of homes sold in September were on the market for less than a month, while 19 percent were on the market for six months or longer.

NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said some buyers who could easily afford a mortgage can't assume they'll get one. "Home buyers need to be more focused on the mortgage process in the current environment where lenders and banking regulators are being risk averse," he said. "Shopping for competitive mortgage terms is a good idea, but it may be more important to find a bank that is willing to work with you given your credit history. Realtors® can often recommend lenders that may have more reasonable underwriting standards."

First-time buyers accounted for 32 percent of purchasers in September, compared with 31 percent in August; they were 32 percent in September 2011.

All-cash sales were at 28 percent of transactions in September, up from 27 percent in August; they were 30 percent in September 2011. Investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 18 percent of homes in September, unchanged from August; they were 19 percent in September 2011.

Single-family home sales declined 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.21 million in September from 4.29 million in August, but are 10.8 percent higher than the 3.80 million-unit level in September 2011. The median existing single-family home price was $184,300 in September, up 11.4 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 540,000 in September, but are 12.5 percent above the 480,000-unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price was $181,000 in September, which is 10.0 percent higher than September 2011.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 6.3 percent to an annual level of 590,000 in September but are 7.3 percent above September 2011. The median price in the Northeast was $238,700, up 4.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest slipped 0.9 percent in September to a pace of 1.10 million but are 19.6 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $145,200, up 7.0 percent from September 2011.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 0.5 percent to an annual level of 1.93 million in September and are 14.2 percent above September 2011. The median price in the region was $163,600, up 13.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 3.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.13 million in September but are 0.9 percent above a year ago. With continuing inventory shortages in the region, the median price in the West was $246,300, which is 18.4 percent higher than September 2011.

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: For local information, please contact the local association of Realtors® for data from local multiple listing services. Local MLS data is the most accurate source of sales and price information in specific areas, although there may be differences in reporting methodology.

1 Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from multiple listing services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. A rebenchmarking of home sales is done periodically using other sources to assess the overall home sales trend, including sales not reported by MLSs.

Existing-home sales differ 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 account for more than 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample - about 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.

2 The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to a 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.

3 Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, credit scores, all-cash transactions, investors and first-time buyers and are from a monthly survey for the NAR's Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.

4 Total 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).

The Pending Home Sales Index for September will be released October 25 and existing-home sales for October is scheduled for November 19; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.