WASHINGTON (April 22, 2013) - Existing-home sales eased in March from inventory constraints, which continued to pressure home prices, 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, declined 0.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million in March from a downwardly revised 4.95 million in February, but remain 10.3 percent higher than the 4.46 million-unit pace in March 2012.
Sales have been above year-ago levels for 21 consecutive months, while prices show 13 consecutive months of year-over-year price increases.
Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist, said there is more demand than supply in the current market. "Buyer traffic is 25 percent above a year ago when we were already seeing notable gains in shopping activity," he said. "In the same timeframe housing inventories have trended much lower, which is continuing to pressure home prices. The good news is home construction is rising and low mortgage rates are continuing to keep affordability conditions at historically favorable levels. The bad news is that underwriting standards remain excessively tight, while renters are getting squeezed by higher rents."
Total housing inventory at the end of March increased 1.6 percent to 1.93 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.7-month supply 2 at the current sales pace, up from 4.6 months in February. Listed inventory remains 16.8 percent below a year ago when there was a 6.2-month supply.
"The inventory improvement last month results from a seasonal gain, but conditions continue to broadly favor sellers. We need a housing supply of over 6 months to have a generally balanced market between home buyers and sellers, but it's unlikely we'll get there without greater increases in housing construction," Yun said.
The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $184,300 in March, which is 11.8 percent higher than March 2012. The March increase is the strongest since November 2005 when it rose 12.9 percent from a year earlier, and the last time there were 13 consecutive months of year-over-year price increases was from May 2005 to May 2006.
Distressed homes4 - foreclosures and short sales - accounted for 21 percent of March sales, down from 25 percent in February and 29 percent in March 2012. Thirteen percent of March sales were foreclosures, and 8 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15 percent below market value in March, while short sales were discounted 13 percent.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.57 percent in March from 3.53 percent in February; it was 3.95 percent in March 2012.
NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., said homes are selling much faster. "The typical home sold in March was on the market for one month less than it took to sell a year ago," he said. "Multiple bidding is becoming more common, and more homes are selling above the asking price, so buyers need to move quickly and follow their Realtor®'s advice for contingencies when making contract offers."
The median time on market for all homes was 62 days in March, down from 74 days in February and is 32 percent below 91 days in March 2012. Short sales were on the market for a median of 81 days, while foreclosures typically sold in 46 days and non-distressed homes took 66 days. Thirty-seven percent of all homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month.
First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in March, unchanged from February; they were 33 percent in March 2012.
All-cash sales were at 30 percent of transactions in March, down from 32 percent in February; they were 32 percent in March 2012. Individual investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 19 percent of homes in March, down from 22 percent in February; they were 21 percent in March 2012.
Single-family home sales slipped 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.32 million in March from 4.33 million in February, but are 9.1 percent above the 3.96 million-unit level in March 2012. The median existing single-family home price was $185,100 in March, up 12.1 percent from a year ago.
Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 3.2 percent to an annualized rate of 600,000 units in March from 620,000 in February, but are 20.0 percent higher than the 500,000-unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price was $178,900 in March, which is 10.4 percent above March 2012.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast were unchanged at an annual rate of 630,000 in March and are 6.8 percent above March 2012. The median price in the Northeast was $237,000, up 3.0 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 1.8 percent in March to a pace of 1.16 million and are 14.9 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $141,800, up 7.8 percent from March 2012.
In the South, existing-home sales slipped 1.5 percent to an annual level of 1.95 million in March but are 12.7 percent above March 2012. The median price in the South was $161,700, which is 10.4 percent above a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West declined 1.7 percent to a pace of 1.18 million in March but are 4.4 percent above a year ago. With notably constrained inventory conditions, the median price in the West rose to $258,100, up 26.1 percent from March 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.
Existing-home sales, based on closings, 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 data 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 of market conditions 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 additional data is received.
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 March will be released April 29, existing-home sales for April is scheduled for May 22, and first quarter metro area home prices will be published May 9; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.