Monday, November 24, 2008

Existing-Home Sales Soften on Economic Volatility

/PRNewswire/ -- Existing-home sales declined on the heels of a strong gain in September as uncertainty and economic concerns increased in October, according to the National Association of Realtors(R).

Existing-home sales -- including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- fell 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate(1) of 4.98 million units in October from a downwardly revised pace of 5.14 million in September, and are 1.6 percent below the 5.06 million-unit level in October 2007.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said consumer hesitation is understandable. "Many potential home buyers appear to have withdrawn from the market due to the stock market collapse and deteriorating economic conditions," he said. "We have favorable affordability conditions, but we need more than that to give buyers with jobs the confidence they need. This is why a housing stimulus is so critical now to encourage more buyers to draw down the inventory and stabilize home prices. Without home price stabilization, there will not be an economic recovery."

Total housing inventory at the end of October slipped 0.9 percent to 4.23 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 10.2-month supply(2) at the current sales pace, up from a 10.0-month supply in September.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 6.20 percent in October from 6.04 percent in September; the rate was 6.38 percent in October 2007. "Mortgage interest rates have been moving up and down in a historically low range, with the fixed rate down to 6.04 percent last week," Yun noted.

Even with the overall decline, Yun identified a number of areas with solid sales gains from a year ago, including many California and Florida markets, as seen previously, as well as Boston, Minneapolis, and Denver.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said the need for professional assistance is growing. "Navigating the transaction process is easier said than done without professional assistance in today's market," McMillan said. "Proper valuation when many homes are being sold below replacement construction costs is very challenging -- buyers remain in the driver's seat."

The national median existing-home price(3) for all housing types was $183,300 in October, down 11.3 percent from a year ago when the median was $206,700. There remains a significant downward distortion in the current price from a large number of distress sales at discounted prices; the median is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

Single-family home sales declined 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.43 million in October from a level of 4.58 million in September, but are unchanged from a 4.43 million-unit pace in October 2007. The median existing single-family home price was $181,800 in October, down 11.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales eased by 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 550,000 units in October from 560,000 in September, and are 12.0 percent below the 625,000-unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price(4) was $193,000 in October, which is 13.0 percent below October 2007.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast slipped 1.2 percent to an annual pace of 830,000 in October, and are 9.8 percent lower than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $241,700, down 9.8 percent from October 2007.

Existing-home sales in the West eased by 1.6 percent to an annual rate of 1.21 million in October but are 37.5 percent higher than October 2007. The median price in the West was $231,400, down 27.0 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales declined 3.2 percent to an annual pace of 1.84 million in October, and are 10.2 percent below a year ago. The median price in the South was $161,100, which is 5.8 percent lower than October 2007.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest fell 6.0 percent in October to a pace of 1.10 million and remain 9.1 percent below October 2007. The median price in the Midwest was $149,400, down 6.7 percent from a year ago.

The National Association of Realtors(R), "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

NOTE: References to performance in states or metro areas are from unpublished raw data used to analyze regional trends; please contact your local association of Realtors(R) for more information.

(1) 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.

Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings. This differs 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 generally account for 85 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample -- more than 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month -- and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

(2) Total inventory and month's supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month's supply are available back to 1982. Condos were tracked quarterly prior to 1999 when single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases.

(3) The 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.

(4) Because there is a concentration of condos in high-cost metro areas, the national median condo price can be higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.

Existing-home sales for November will be released December 23, and the next Pending Home Sales Index & Forecast is scheduled for release at 10 a.m. EST December 9.

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