WASHINGTON (February 21, 2013) - Existing-home sales edged up in January, while a seller's market is developing and home prices continue to rise steadily above year-ago levels, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Sales rose in every region but the West, which is the region most constrained by limited inventory.
Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 0.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million in January from a downwardly revised 4.90 million in December, and are 9.1 percent above the 4.51 million-unit pace in January 2012.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said tight inventory is a major factor in the market. "Buyer traffic is continuing to pick up, while seller traffic is holding steady," he said. "In fact, buyer traffic is 40 percent above a year ago, so there is plenty of demand but insufficient inventory to improve sales more strongly. We've transitioned into a seller's market in much of the country."
Total housing inventory at the end of January fell 4.9 percent to 1.74 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.2-month supply2 at the current sales pace, down from 4.5 months in December, and is the lowest housing supply since April 2005 when it was also 4.2 months.
Listed inventory is 25.3 percent below a year ago when there was a 6.2-month supply. Raw unsold inventory is at the lowest level since December 1999 when there were 1.71 million homes on the market.
"We expect a seasonal rise of inventory this spring, but it may be insufficient to avoid more frequent incidences of multiple bidding and faster-than-normal price growth," Yun explained.
The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $173,600 in January, up 12.3 percent from January 2012, which is the 11th consecutive month of year-over-year price increases; that last occurred from July 2005 to May 2006. The January gain is the strongest since November 2005 when it was 12.9 percent above a year earlier.
Distressed homes4 - foreclosures and short sales - accounted for 23 percent of January sales, down from 24 percent in December and 35 percent in January 2012. Fourteen percent of January sales were foreclosures and 9 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 20 percent below market value in January, while short sales were discounted 12 percent.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.41 percent in January from a record low 3.35 percent in December; it was 3.92 percent in January 2012.
NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., said homes are selling faster. "The typical home is selling nearly four weeks faster than it did a year ago," he said. "In this environment, Realtors® can help buyers strike a balance between moving quickly and protecting their interests, such as making offers contingent upon a satisfactory home inspection and obtaining a loan; of course, a loan pre-qualification may help too."
The median time on market for all homes was 71 days in January, down from 73 days in December and is 28.3 percent below 99 days in January 2012. Short sales were on the market for a median of 94 days, while foreclosures typically sold in 47 days and non-distressed homes took 75 days; 31 percent of all homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month.
First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in January, unchanged from December; they were 33 percent in January 2012.
All-cash sales were at 28 percent of transactions in January, down from 29 percent in December and 31 percent in January 2012. Investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 19 percent of homes in January, down from 21 percent in December and 23 percent in January 2012.
Single-family home sales increased 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.34 million in January from 4.33 million in December, and are 8.5 percent above the 4.00 million-unit level in January 2012. The median existing single-family home price was $174,100 in January, up 12.6 percent from a year ago.
Existing condominium and co-op sales rose 1.8 percent to an annualized pace of 580,000 in January from 570,000 in December, and are 13.7 percent higher than the 510,000-unit level a year ago. The median existing condo price was $169,600 in January, up 9.4 percent from January 2012.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 4.8 percent to an annual rate of 650,000 in January and are 12.1 percent above January 2012. The median price in the Northeast was $230,500, up 2.4 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 3.6 percent in January to a pace of 1.16 million and are 17.2 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $131,800, which is 8.6 percent above January 2012.
In the South, existing-home sales increased 1.0 percent to an annual level of 1.96 million in January and are 14.0 percent above January 2012. The median price in the South was $152,100, up 13.4 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West fell 5.7 percent to a pace of 1.15 million in January and are 5.7 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $239,800, which is 26.6 percent above January 2012.
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. For additional commentary and consumer information, visit www.houselogic.com and http://retradio.com.
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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. NAR rebenchmarks home sales periodically using other sources to assess overall home sales trends, including sales not reported by MLSs.
Annual Revisions: Each February, NAR Research publishes revisions to existing-home sales, which incorporates a review of seasonal activity factors to fine-tune historic data for the past three years based on the most recent findings. Revisions were made to monthly seasonally-adjusted annual sales rates for 2010 through 2012, as well as the month's supply data. There are no revisions to inventory or price data. Those revisions are posted at: www.realtor.org/topics/existing-home-sales/data.
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 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, single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions and condos were measured only on a quarterly basis).
3 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.
The national median condo/co-op price often is higher than the median single-family home price because condos are concentrated in higher-cost housing markets. However, in a given area, single-family homes typically sell for more than condos as seen in NAR's quarterly metro area price reports.
4 Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions and investors are from a monthly survey for the NAR's Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.
The Pending Home Sales Index for January will be released February 27 and existing-home sales for February is scheduled for March 21; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.