Existing-Home Sales Ease; Some Markets Rising

National Realty News 


June 4, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Existing-home sales slowed in April, partly because restrictive lending practices hampered home buyers. At the same time, a greater number of areas are showing sales gains from a year ago and a recent reversal in mortgage policy means the market is better positioned for a turnaround, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – declined 1.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million units in April from an upwardly revised pace of 4.94 million in March, and are 17.5 percent below the 5.93 million-unit level in April 2007.

NAR President Richard F. Gaylord, a broker with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif., said the good news is that mortgage restrictions have just been eased. “In the past week, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae announced that they were eliminating their ‘declining market’ policies, effective June 1,” he said. “This means consumers across the country will have access to safe, affordable financing with downpayments of only 5 percent on most mortgages, with 100 percent financing available on some loan products, and we could see an upturn in home sales this summer.”

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said eliminating restrictive policies should be a big help to home buyers. “I would encourage buyers who were disappointed by poor mortgage options to take another look at the market because the lending changes are significant,” he said. “Also, a recent notable drop in interest rates on conforming jumbo loans will help consumers in high-cost markets like California and New York.”

The unusual mix of market conditions around the country continues, but areas showing healthy price gains include Greenville, S.C., and Springfield, Mo., both with solid local economies. “On the other hand, some markets like San Diego, Calif., and Fort Myers, Fla., are experiencing rising sales after sudden double-digit drops in local home prices, so lower prices and low interest rates are starting to generate results,” Yun said.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $202,300 in April, which is 8.0 percent below a year ago when the median was $219,900. Because the slowdown in sales from a year ago is greatest in high-cost areas, there is a downward distortion to the national median with relatively more sales in low- and moderate-priced markets.

Total housing inventory at the end of April rose 10.5 percent to 4.55 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 11.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 10.0-month supply in March.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 5.92 percent in April from 5.97 percent in March; the rate was 6.18 percent in April 2007.

Single-family home sales slipped 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.34 million in April from 4.36 million in March, and are 16.1 percent below the 5.17 million-unit level recorded one year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $200,700 in April, down 8.5 percent from April 2007.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 5.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 550,000 units in April from 580,000 in March, and are 27.9 percent below the 763,000-unit pace in April 2007. The median existing condo price was $214,900 in April, which is 3.7 percent below a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the West rose 6.4 percent in April to a level of 1.00 million but are 15.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $285,700, which is 16.7 percent lower than April 2007.

In the South, existing-home sales were unchanged from March at an annual rate of 1.92 million in April, but are 18.6 percent below April 2007. The median price in the South was $170,800, down 5.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 4.4 percent to an annual pace of 870,000 in April, and are 14.7 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $262,000, which is 7.7 percent below April 2007.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales were at an annual rate of 1.10 million in April, which is 6.0 below March and 19.7 percent lower than April 2007. The median price in the Midwest was $159,100, down 2.9 percent from April 2007.