21 October 2014
After a modest decline last month, existing-home sales bounced back in September to their highest annual pace of the year, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All major regions except for the Midwest experienced gains in September.
Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.17 million in September from 5.05 million in August. Sales are now at their highest pace of 2014, but still remain 1.7 percent below the 5.26 million-unit level from last September.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the improved demand for buying seen since the spring has carried into the fall. “Low interest rates and price gains holding steady led to September’s healthy increase, even with investor activity remaining on par with last month’s marked decline,” he said. “Traditional buyers are entering a less competitive market with fewer investors searching for available homes, but may also face a slight decline in choices due to the fact that inventory generally falls heading into the winter.”
The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in September was $209,700, which is 5.6 percent above September 2013. This marks the 31st consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.
Total housing inventory3 at the end of September fell 1.3 percent to 2.30 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.3-month supply at the current sales pace. Despite fewer homes for sale in September, unsold inventory is still 6.0 percent higher than a year ago, when there were 2.17 million existing homes available for sale.
All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in September, up slightly from August (23 percent) but down from 33 percent in September of last year. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in September, up from 12 percent last month but below September 2013 (19 percent). Sixty-three percent of investors paid cash in September.
According to Freddie Mac, after falling for four consecutive months, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.16 percent in September from 4.12 percent in August. Despite the slight increase, interest rates are 33 basis points less than a year ago (4.49 percent).
“Economic instability overseas is leading to volatility in the stock market and is causing investors to seek safer bets, which will likely keep interest rates in upcoming weeks hovering near or below where they are now,” said Yun. “This is welcoming news for consumers looking to buy, although they could temporarily become more cautious by less certain economic conditions.”
The percent share of first-time buyers continues to under-perform historically, remaining at 29 percent for the third consecutive month. First-time buyers have represented less than 30 percent of all buyers in 17 of the past 18 months.
Distressed homes4 – foreclosures and short sales – increased slightly in September to 10 percent from 8 percent in August, but are down from 14 percent a year ago. Seven percent of September sales were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 14 percent below market value in September (same as in August), while short sales were discounted 14 percent (10 percent in August).
According to NAR President Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate, Inc., Realtors® in Dayton, Ohio, fewer distressed sales is good news for appraisers, who have faced undue pressure since the downturn. “An appraisal is an important part of the home buying and selling process,” he said. “With foreclosures and short sales falling closer to average levels, appraisers will have fewer distressed sales in their list of comparables when determining home valuations.”
Properties typically stayed on the market in September longer (56 days) than last month (53 days) and a year ago (50 days). Short sales were on the market for a median of 116 days in September, while foreclosures sold in 59 days and non-distressed homes typically took 55 days. Thirty-five percent of homes sold in September were on the market for less than a month.
Single-family home sales rose 2.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.56 million in September from 4.47 million in August, but remain 1.9 percent below the 4.65 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $210,300 in September, up 5.9 percent from September 2013.
Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 5.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in September from 580,000 in August, and are unchanged from the 610,000 unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price was $205,200 in September, which is 3.2 percent higher than a year ago.
Regionally, September existing-home sales in the Northeast climbed 1.5 percent to an annual rate of 680,000, but remain 1.4 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $249,800, which is 4.8 percent higher than a year ago.
In the Midwest, existing-home sales declined 5.6 percent to an annual level of 1.17 million in September, and remain 4.9 percent below September 2013. The median price in the Midwest was $165,100, up 4.9 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the South increased 5.0 percent to an annual rate of 2.12 million in September, and are now 1.4 percent above September 2013. The median price in the South was $180,900, up 5.1 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West jumped 7.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.20 million in September, but remain 4.0 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $294,200, which is 4.0 percent above September 2013.
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 re-benchmarks 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.
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).
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.
Realtor.com®, NAR’s listing site, posts metro area median listing price and inventory data at: www.realtor.com/data-portal/Real-Estate-Statistics.aspx.
The Pending Home Sales Index for September will be released October 27, and existing-home sales for October is scheduled for November 20; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.
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