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Existing-Home Sales Inch Forward in January, Price Growth Accelerates

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

WASHINGTON (February 23, 2016) — Existing-home sales crept forward in January to the highest annual rate in six months, and subpar supply levels propelled price growth to the fastest increase since last April, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The West was the only region to see a decline in sales in January.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, inched 0.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million in January from a downwardly revised 5.45 million in December. Sales are now 11.0 percent higher than a year ago – the largest year-over-year gain since July 2013 (16.3 percent).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says existing sales kicked off 2016 on solid footing, rising slightly to the strongest pace since July 2015 (5.48 million). "The housing market has shown promising resilience in recent months, but home prices are still rising too fast because of ongoing supply constraints," he said. "Despite the global economic slowdown, the housing sector continues to recover and will likely help the U.S. economy avoid a recession."

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in January was $213,800, up 8.2 percent from January 2015 ($197,600). Last month's price increase was the largest since April 2015 (8.5 percent) and marks the 47th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of January increased 3.4 percent to 1.82 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 2.2 percent lower than a year ago (1.86 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.0-month supply at the current sales pace, up slightly from 3.9 months in December 2015.

"The spring buying season is right around the corner and current supply levels aren't even close to what's needed to accommodate the subsequent growth in housing demand," says Yun. "Home prices ascending near or above double-digit appreciation aren't healthy – especially considering the fact that household income and wages are barely rising."  

The share of first-time buyers remained at 32 percent in January for the second consecutive month and is up from 28 percent a year ago. First-time buyers in all of 2015 represented an average of 30 percent, up from 29 percent in both 2014 and 2013.

All-cash sales were 26 percent of transactions in January (24 percent in December 2015) and are down from 27 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 17 percent of homes in January (15 percent in December 2015), matching the highest share since last January. Sixty-seven percent of investors paid cash in January.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage stayed below 4 percent for the sixth consecutive month and declined in January to 3.87 (lowest since October 2015 at 3.80 percent) from 3.96 percent in December. The average commitment rate for all of 2015 was 3.85 percent.

Properties typically stayed on the market for 64 days in January, an increase from 58 days in December but below the 69 days in January 2015. Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 77 days in January, while foreclosures sold in 57 days and non-distressed homes took 61 days. Thirty-two percent of homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month.

With homebuyers facing a tough market this spring, NAR President Tom Salomone, broker-owner of Real Estate II Inc. in Coral Springs, Florida, said Realtors® overwhelmingly applauded the recent U.S. House of Representatives passage of H.R. 3700, the "Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act."

"This legislation contains a number of initiatives that put homeownership in reach for more families, including several reforms to current Federal Housing Administration restrictions on condominium financing. Now that the House has overwhelmingly voted in support of the bill, we look forward to working with our industry partners to advance it through the Senate."  

Distressed sales4 – foreclosures and short sales – rose slightly to 9 percent in January, up from 8 percent in December but down from 11 percent a year ago. Seven percent of January sales were foreclosures and 2 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 13 percent below market value in January (16 percent in December), while short sales were discounted 12 percent (15 percent in December).

Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales increased 1.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.86 million in January from 4.81 million in December, and are now 11.2 percent higher than the 4.37 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $215,000 in January, up 8.3 percent from January 2015.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 4.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in January from 640,000 in December, but are still 8.9 percent above January 2015 (560,000 units). The median existing condo price was $203,900 in January, which is 7.4 percent above a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

January existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 2.7 percent to an annual rate of 760,000, and are now 20.6 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $247,500, which is 0.9 percent above January 2015.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales rose 4.0 percent to an annual rate of 1.30 million in January, and are now 18.2 percent above January 2015. The median price in the Midwest was $164,300, up 8.7 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South were at an annual rate of 2.24 million in January (unchanged from December) and are 5.7 percent above January 2015. The median price in the South was $184,800, up 8.5 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West decreased 4.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.17 million in January, but are still 8.3 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the West was $309,400, which is 7.4 percent above January 2015.

The National Association of Realtors®, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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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).

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: NAR's Pending Home Sales Index for January will be released February 29, and Existing-Home Sales for February will be released March 21; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.