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Existing-Home Sales Slightly Improve in February, Price Growth Gains Steam

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

WASHINGTON (March 23, 2015) – Existing-home sales increased modestly in February, but constrained inventory levels pushed price growth to its fastest pace in a year, 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, rose 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million in February from 4.82 million in January. Sales are 4.7 percent higher than a year ago and above year-over-year totals for the fifth consecutive month.

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in February was $202,600, which is 7.5 percent above February 2014. This marks the 36th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains and the largest since last February (8.8 percent).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says although February sales showed modest improvement, there’s been some stagnation in the market in recent months. “Insufficient supply appears to be hampering prospective buyers in several areas of the country and is hiking prices to near unsuitable levels,” he said. “Stronger price growth is a boon for homeowners looking to build additional equity, but it continues to be an obstacle for current buyers looking to close before rates rise.”

Adds Yun, “Severe below-freezing winter weather likely had an impact on sales as more moderate activity was observed in the Northeast and Midwest compared to other regions of the country."

Total housing inventory3 at the end of February increased 1.6 percent to 1.89 million existing homes available for sale, but remains 0.5 percent below a year ago (1.90 million). For the second straight month, unsold inventory is at a 4.6-month supply at the current sales pace.  

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage in February slightly rose to 3.71 percent from 3.67 percent in January, marking the first monthly increase since September 2014.  

“With all indications pointing to a rate increase from the Federal Reserve this year – perhaps as early as this summer – affordability concerns could heighten as home prices and rents both continue to exceed wages,” adds Yun.

A NAR study released earlier this month found that the disparity between rent and income growth is widening in metro areas throughout the country and is making it harder for renters to become homeowners.

The percent share of first-time buyers was 29 percent in February, up from 28 percent in January and the first increase since November 2014.  First-time buyers represented 28 percent of all buyers in February 2014.

All-cash sales were 26 percent of transactions in February, down from 27 percent in January and down considerably from a year ago (35 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in February, down from 17 percent last month and 21 percent in February 2014. Sixty-seven percent of investors paid cash in February.

Distressed sales5 – foreclosures and short sales – were 11 percent of sales in February, unchanged for the third consecutive month and down from 16 percent a year ago. Eight percent of February sales were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 17 percent below market value in February (15 percent in January), while short sales were discounted 15 percent (12 percent in January). 

“Investor sales are trending downward due to the continued rise in prices and fewer bargains available from distressed properties coming onto the market,” says NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark. “Furthermore, Realtors® in areas popular to foreign buyers, such as South Florida and the West Coast, are reporting tempered demand from international clients – who typically pay in cash – due to the strengthening U.S. dollar compared to foreign currencies.”

Properties typically stayed on the market for 62 days in February, down from 69 days in January and unchanged from a year ago. Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 120 days in February, while foreclosures sold in 58 days and non-distressed homes took 61 days. Thirty-four percent of homes sold in February were on the market for less than a month.

Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales increased 1.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.34 million in February from 4.28 million in January, and are 5.9 percent above the 4.10 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $204,200 in February, up 8.2 percent from February 2014.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 540,000 units in February, unchanged from January, but 3.6 below February 2014 (560,000 units). The median existing condo price was $190,200 in February, which is 2.8 percent higher than a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

February existing-home sales in the Northeast dropped 6.5 percent to an annual rate of 580,000, but are still 3.6 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $241,800, which is 3.3 percent above a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales were at an annual level of 1.08 million in February, unchanged from January and 4.9 percent above February 2014. The median price in the Midwest was $152,900, up 8.8 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 1.9 percent to an annual rate of 2.11 million in February, and are now 6.0 percent above February 2014. The median price in the South was $177,900, up 8.5 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West climbed 5.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.11 million in February, and are now 2.8 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $290,100, which is 4.2 percent above February 2014.

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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 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 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.

3 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).

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 February will be released March 30, and Existing-Home Sales for March are scheduled for April 22; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.