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Existing-Home Sales Slightly Lose Momentum in August as Investor Activity Declines

Media Contact: Adam DeSanctis / 202-383-1178 / Email

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2014) – After four consecutive months of gains, existing-home sales slipped in August as investors paying in cash retreated from the market, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Sales increases in the Northeast and Midwest were outweighed by declines in the South and West.

Total existing-home sales 1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, decreased 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million in August from a slight downwardly-revised 5.14 million in July. Sales are at the second-highest pace of 2014, but remain 5.3 percent below the 5.33 million-unit level from last August, which was also the second-highest sales level of 2013.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sales activity remains stronger than earlier in the year, but fell last month as investors stepped away. "There was a marked decline in all-cash sales from investors,” he said. "On the positive side, first-time buyers have a better chance of purchasing a home now that bidding wars are receding and supply constraints have significantly eased in many parts of the country.”

Yun adds, "As long as solid job growth continues, wages should eventually pick up to steadily improve purchasing power and help fully release the pent-up demand for buying.”

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in August was $219,800, which is 4.8 percent above August 2013. This marks the 30th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of August declined 1.7 percent to 2.31 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.5-month supply at the current sales pace. However, unsold inventory is 4.5 percent higher than a year ago, when there were 2.21 million existing homes available for sale.

All-cash sales were 23 percent of transactions in August, dropping for the second consecutive month (29 percent in July) and representing the lowest overall share since December 2009 (22 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 12 percent of homes in August, down from 16 percent last month and 17 percent in August 2013. Sixty-four percent of investors paid cash in August.

NAR President Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate, Inc., Realtors® in Dayton, Ohio, says a gradual decline in investor activity, many who pay in cash, is good for the market and creates more opportunity for buyers who rely on financing to purchase a home.

On the subject of mortgage financing, Brown adds, "Realtors® applaud the recent policy change to eliminate post-payment interest charges on FHA-insured single-family mortgages,” he said. "The prepayment penalty placed an unfair and unreasonable burden on consumers who already face high housing and closing costs.”

The percent share of first-time buyers remained unchanged in August from July at 29 percent. First-time buyers have represented less than 30 percent of all buyers in 16 of the past 17 months.

Distressed homes4 – foreclosures and short sales – represented 8 percent of August sales, remaining in the single-digits for the second straight month and down from 12 percent a year ago. Six percent of August sales were foreclosures and 2 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 14 percent below market value in August (20 percent in July), while short sales were discounted 10 percent (14 percent in July).

Properties typically stayed on the market in August longer (53 days) than last month (48 days) and a year ago (43 days). Short sales were on the market for a median of 135 days in August, while foreclosures sold in 53 days and non-distressed homes typically took 52 days. Forty percent of homes sold in August were on the market for less than a month.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell for the fourth consecutive month to 4.12 percent in August from 4.13 percent in July, and remains at the lowest rate since June 2013 (4.07 percent).

Single-family home sales slipped 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.46 million in August from 4.54 million in July, and are now 4.9 percent below the 4.69 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $220,600 in August, up 5.2 percent from August 2013.

Existing condominium and co-op sales declined 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 590,000 units in August from 600,000 in July, and are now 7.8 percent below the 640,000 unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price was $213,900 in August, which is 2.1 percent higher than a year ago.

Regionally, August existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 4.7 percent to an annual rate of 670,000, but remain 4.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $265,800, which is 0.8 percent lower than a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales increased 2.5 percent to an annual level of 1.24 million in August, but remain 3.9 percent below August 2013. The median price in the Midwest was $173,800, up 5.9 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South declined 4.2 percent to an annual rate of 2.03 million in August, and are now down 4.2 percent from August 2013. The median price in the South was $186,700, up 4.7 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 5.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.11 million in August, and are 9.8 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $301,900, which is 5.4 percent above August 2013.

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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.

1Existing-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.

2The 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 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.

3Total 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).

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.

4Distressed 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.

Realtor.com®, NAR's listing site, posts metro area median listing price and inventory data at: www.realtor.com/data-portal/Real-Estate-Statistics.aspx.

The Pending Home Sales Index for August will be released September 29, and existing-home sales for September is scheduled for October 21; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.