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Existing-Home Sales Bounce Back Strongly in May as First-time Buyers Return

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

WASHINGTON (June 22, 2015) — Fueled partly by an increase in the share of sales to first-time buyers, existing-home sales increased in May to their highest pace in nearly six years, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Led by the Northeast, all major regions experienced sales increases in May.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in May from an upwardly revised 5.09 million in April. Sales have now increased year-over-year for eight consecutive months and are 9.2 percent above a year ago (4.90 million).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says May home sales rebounded strongly following April's decline and are now at their highest pace since November 2009 (5.44 million). "Solid sales gains were seen throughout the country in May as more homeowners listed their home for sale and therefore provided greater choices for buyers," he said. "However, overall supply still remains tight, homes are selling fast and price growth in many markets continues to teeter at or near double-digit appreciation. Without solid gains in new home construction, prices will likely stay elevated — even with higher mortgage rates above 4 percent."

Total housing inventory2 at the end of May increased 3.2 percent to 2.29 million existing homes available for sale, and is 1.8 percent higher than a year ago (2.25 million). Unsold inventory is at a 5.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 5.2 months in April.

The median existing-home price3 for all housing types in May was $228,700, which is 7.9 percent above May 2014. This marks the 39th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

The percent share of first-time buyers rose to 32 percent in May, up from 30 percent in April and matching the highest share since September 2012. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 27 percent of all buyers.

"The return of first-time buyers in May is an encouraging sign and is the result of multiple factors, including strong job gains among young adults, less expensive mortgage insurance and lenders offering low downpayment programs," said Yun. "More first-time buyers are expected to enter the market in coming months, but the overall share climbing higher will depend on how fast rates and prices rise."

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage climbed in May to 3.84 percent from 3.67 percent in April but remained below 4.00 percent for the sixth straight month.

NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark., says Realtors® overwhelmingly support the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's proposal of a two-month delay for the implementation of the new Truth in Lending Act and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act Integrated Disclosure, or TRID, regulation. "NAR has long advocated the need to avoid implementing the new regulation during the peak buying season," he said. "With interest rates on the rise, many families wanting to buy are looking to lock-in at current rates and move into their new home before the school year starts. Holding off on TRID implementation through the summer helps these buyers avoid any disruption or delays in closings that could develop once the regulation goes into effect."

With demand continuing to far exceed supply, properties typically stayed on the market for 40 days in May, up from April (39 days) but the third shortest time since NAR began tracking in May 2011. Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 131 days in May, while foreclosures sold in 56 days and non-distressed homes took 38 days. Forty-five percent of homes sold in May were on the market for less than a month.

All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in May for the third straight month and are down considerably from a year ago (32 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in May, unchanged from last month and down from 16 percent in May 2014. Sixty-seven percent of investors paid cash in May.

Distressed sales4 — foreclosures and short sales — remained at 10 percent for the third consecutive month in May and are below the 11 percent share a year ago. Seven percent of May sales were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15 percent below market value in May (20 percent in April), while short sales were also discounted 16 percent (14 percent in April).

Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales jumped 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.73 million in May from 4.48 million in April, and are and now 9.7 percent above the 4.31 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $230,300 in May, up 8.6 percent from May 2014.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 620,000 units in May from 610,000 units in April, and are 5.1 percent higher than May 2014 (590,000 units). The median existing condo price was $216,400 in May, which is 1.9 percent higher than a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

May existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 11.3 percent to an annual rate of 690,000, and are now 11.3 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $269,000, which is 4.8 percent higher than May 2014.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales rose 4.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.27 million in May, and are 12.4 percent above May 2014. The median price in the Midwest was $181,900, up 9.4 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 2.18 million in May, and are 6.9 percent above May 2014. The median price in the South was $198,300, up 8.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West climbed 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 1.21 million in May, and are 9.0 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $324,000, which is 10.2 percent above May 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.

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.

2Total 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).

3The 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.

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.

NOTE: The Pending Home Sales Index for May will be released June 29, and Existing-Home Sales for June will be released July 22; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.