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WASHINGTON (November 23, 2015) — With mortgage rates remaining below 4 percent for the third straight month, existing-home sales in October were at a healthy pace but failed to keep up with September's jump, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All four major regions saw no gains in sales in October.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in October from 5.55 million in September. Despite last month's decline, sales are still 3.9 percent above a year ago (5.16 million).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says a sales cooldown in October was likely given the pullback in contract signings the last couple of months. "New and existing-home supply has struggled to improve so far this fall, leading to few choices for buyers and no easement of the ongoing affordability concerns still prevalent in some markets," he said. "Furthermore, the mixed signals of slowing economic growth and volatility in the financial markets slightly tempered demand and contributed to the decreasing pace of sales."

Adds Yun, "As long as solid job creation continues, a gradual easing of credit standards even with moderately higher mortgage rates should support steady demand and sales continuing to rise above a year ago."

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in October was $219,600, which is 5.8 percent above October 2014 ($207,500). October's price increase marks the 44th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of October decreased 2.3 percent to 2.14 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 4.5 percent lower than a year ago (2.24 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.7 months in September.

The percent share of first-time buyers increased to 31 percent in October, up from 29 percent both in September and a year ago. NAR's annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellersreleased earlier this month4 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers fell to its second-lowest level since the survey began in 1981.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage stayed below 4 percent for the third consecutive month, declining in October to 3.80 from 3.89 percent in September. A year ago, the average commitment rate was 4.04 percent.

All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in October (unchanged from September) and are down from 27 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 13 percent of homes in October, unchanged from September but down from 15 percent a year ago. Sixty-two percent of investors paid cash in October.

Distressed sales5 – foreclosures and short sales – declined to 6 percent in October, which is the lowest since NAR began tracking in October 2008; they were 9 percent a year ago. Five percent of October sales were foreclosures and 1 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 18 percent below market value in October (17 percent in September), while short sales were discounted 8 percent (19 percent in September).

"All-cash and investor sales are still somewhat elevated historically despite the diminishing number of distressed properties," adds Yun. "With supply already meager at the lower-end of the price range, competition from these buyers only adds to the list of obstacles in the path for first-time buyers trying to reach the market."

NAR President Tom Salomone, broker-owner of Real Estate II Inc. in Coral Springs, Florida, says Realtors® overwhelmingly applaud the Federal Housing Administration's announced changes to begin simplifying some of its overly-restrictive condo certification procedures. "With first-time buyers held back in several markets, affordable FHA financing needs to be a viable option in helping them achieve homeownership," he said. "The new changes to FHA's condo policy, including improving owner-occupancy requirements, streamlining the recertification process, and addressing restrictions on eligible property insurance for condos will go a long way in improving the ability for these young households to purchase a condo."

Properties typically stayed on the market for 57 days in October, an increase from 49 days in September but below the 63 days in October 2014. Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 90 days in October, while foreclosures sold in 67 days and non-distressed homes took 57 days. One-third of homes sold in October were on the market for less than a month.

Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales fell 3.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.75 million in October from 4.93 million in September, but are still 4.6 percent above the 4.54 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $221,200 in October, up 6.3 percent from October 2014.

Existing condominium and co-op sales declined 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in October from 620,000 in September, and are now down 1.6 percent from October 2014 (620,000 units). The median existing condo price was $207,100 in October, which is 1.6 percent above a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

October existing-home sales in the Northeast were at an annual rate of 760,000, unchanged from September and 8.6 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $248,900, which is 1.3 percent above October 2014.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales declined 0.8 percent to an annual rate of 1.30 million in October, but are 8.3 percent above October 2014. The median price in the Midwest was $172,300, up 5.7 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South decreased 3.2 percent to an annual rate of 2.14 million in October, but are still 0.5 percent above October 2014. The median price in the South was $188,800, up 6.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 8.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.16 million in October, but are still 2.7 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $319,000, which is 8.0 percent above October 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.

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.

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.

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).

4Survey results represent owner-occupants and differ from separately reported monthly findings from NAR's Realtors® Confidence Index, which include all types of buyers. Investors are under-represented in the annual study because survey questionnaires are mailed to the addresses of the property purchased and generally are not returned by absentee owners. Results include both new and existing homes.

5Distressed 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: NAR's Pending Home Sales Index for October will be released November 30, the new quarterly Homeownership Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) Survey will be released December 16, and Existing-Home Sales for November will be released December 22; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.