Existing-home sales continued on an uptrend in December, rising for three consecutive months and remaining above a year ago, according to the National Association of RealtorsÂ®.
The latest monthly data shows total existing-home sales1 rose 5.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.61 million in December from a downwardly revised 4.39 million in November, and are 3.6 percent higher than the 4.45 million-unit level in December 2010. The estimates are based on completed transactions from multiple listing services that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said these are early signs of what may be a sustained recovery. â€œThe pattern of home sales in recent months demonstrates a market in recovery,â€ he said. â€œRecord low mortgage interest rates, job growth and bargain home prices are giving more consumers the confidence they need to enter the market.â€
For all of 2011, existing-home sales rose 1.7 percent to 4.26 million from 4.19 million in 2010.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to another record low of 3.96 percent in December from 3.99 percent in November; the rate was 4.71 percent in December 2010; recordkeeping began in 1971.
NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said more buyers are expected to take advantage of market conditions this year. â€œThe American dream of homeownership is alive and well. We have a large pent-up demand, and household formation is likely to return to normal as the job market steadily improves,â€ he said. â€œMore buyers coming into the market mean additional benefits for the overall economy. When people buy homes, they stimulate a lot of related goods and services.â€
Total housing inventory at the end of December dropped 9.2 percent to 2.38 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.2-month supply2 at the current sales pace, down from a 7.2-month supply in November.
Available inventory has trended down since setting a record of 4.04 million in July 2007, and is at the lowest level since March 2005 when there were 2.30 million homes on the market.
â€œThe inventory supply suggests many markets will see prices stabilize or grow moderately in the near future,â€ Yun said.
Foreclosures3 sold for an average discount of 22 percent in December, up from 20 percent a year ago, while short sales closed 13 percent below market value compared with a 16 percent discount in December 2010.
The national median existing-home price4 for all housing types was $164,500 in December, which is 2.5 percent below December 2010. Distressed homes â€“ foreclosures and short sales â€“ accounted for 32 percent of sales in December (19 percent were foreclosures and 13 percent were short sales), up from 29 percent in November; they were 36 percent in December 2010.
All-cash sales accounted for 31 percent of purchases in December, up from 28 percent in November and 29 percent in December 2010. Investors account for the bulk of cash transactions.
Investors purchased 21 percent of homes in December, up from 19 percent in November and 20 percent in December 2010. First-time buyers fell to 31 percent of transactions in December from 35 percent in November; they were 33 percent in December 2010.
Contract failures were reported by 33 percent of NAR members in December, unchanged from November; they were 9 percent in December 2010. Although closed sales are holding up better than this finding would suggest, contract cancellations are caused largely by declined mortgage applications and failures in loan underwriting from appraised values coming in below the negotiated price.
Single-family home sales increased 4.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.11 million in December from 3.93 million in November, and are 4.3 percent higher than the 3.94 million-unit pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $165,100 in December, which is 2.5 percent below December 2010.
Existing condominium and co-op sales rose 8.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 500,000 in December from 460,000 in November but are 2.0 percent below the 510,000-unit level in December 2010. The median existing condo price was $160,000 in December, down 3.0 percent from a year ago.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 10.7 percent to an annual pace of 620,000 in December and are 3.3 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $231,300, which is 2.7 percent below December 2010.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 8.3 percent in December to a level of 1.04 million and are 9.5 percent above December 2010. The median price in the Midwest was $129,100, down 7.9 percent from a year ago.
In the South, existing-home sales increased 2.9 percent to an annual level of 1.76 million in December and are 3.5 percent above a year ago. The median price in the South was $146,900, down 1.1 percent from December 2010.
Existing-home sales in the West rose 2.6 percent to an annual pace of 1.19 million in December but are 0.8 percent below December 2010. The median price in the West was $205,200, up 0.3 percent from a year ago.
The National Association of RealtorsÂ®, â€œThe Voice for Real Estate,â€ is Americaâ€™s largest trade association, representing 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 RealtorsÂ® 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. A rebenchmarking of home sales is done periodically using other sources to assess the overall home sales trend, including sales not reported by MLSs.
Existing-home sales differ from the U.S. Census Bureauâ€™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 sample â€“ about 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month â€“ 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.
NAR published benchmark revisions to sales and inventory data for 2007 through 2011 on December 21, 2011. The data and background are posted at www.realtor.org/research/research/ehs_benchmarking.
2Total inventory and monthâ€™s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and monthâ€™s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, condos were measured quarterly while single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions).
3Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), all-cash transactions, investors, first-time buyers and contract failures are from a monthly survey for the RealtorsÂ® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.
4The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the 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 more data is received than was originally reported.
The Pending Home Sales Index for December will be released January 25 and existing-home sales for January is scheduled for February 22. Fourth quarter and 2011 annual metro area home price and state resale data will be released February 9; all release times are 10:00 a.m. EST.
Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org. This and other news releases are posted in the News Media section. Statistical data in this release, other tables and surveys also may be found by clicking on Research.
REALTORÂ® is a registered collective membership mark which may be used only by real estate professionals who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORSÂ® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. Not all real estate agents are REALTORSÂ®. All REALTORSÂ® are members of NAR.