Tuesday, March 23, 2010

February Existing-Home Sales Ease with Mixed Conditions Around the Country

Existing-home sales declined slightly in February, with modest gains in the Northeast and Midwest offset by softer sales in the South and West, according to the National Association of Realtors®(NAR).

Existing-home sales [1], which are finalized transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, slipped 0.6 percent nationally to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.02 million units in February from 5.05 million in January, but are 7.0 percent higher than the 4.69 million-unit pace in February 2009.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said widespread winter storms in February may mask underlying demand. “Some closings were simply postponed by winter storms, but buyers couldn’t get out to look at homes in some areas and that should negatively impact near-term contract activity,” he said.

“Although sales have been higher than year-ago levels for eight straight months and home prices are much more stable compared to the past few years, the housing recovery is fragile at the moment.”

Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 9.5 percent to 3.59 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.6-month supply[2] at the current sales pace, up from a 7.8-month supply in January. Raw unsold inventory is 5.5 percent below a year ago.

“The key test for a durable recovery comes in the next few months as the tax credit deadline approaches,” Yun said. “If we see a surge in home buying comparable to last fall in the months leading up to the original tax credit deadline, then enough inventory should be absorbed to ensure a broad home price stabilization.”

The national median existing-home price[3] for all housing types was $165,100 in February, which is 1.8 percent below February 2009. Distressed homes, generally sold at discount, accounted for 35 percent of sales last month.

A parallel NAR practitioner survey[4] shows first-time buyers purchased 42 percent of homes in February, up from 40 percent in January. Investors accounted for 19 percent of transactions in February, compared with 17 percent in January; the remaining sales were to repeat buyers.

NAR President Vicki Cox Golder, owner of Vicki L. Cox & Associates in Tucson, Ariz., said some buyers are just beginning to realize the urgency of acting before the contract deadline for the tax credit. “If home buyers want this tax credit there is literally no time to waste,” she said.

“Most buyers spend several months looking at a dozen homes before they make a contract offer, but less than six weeks are left before the April 30 contract deadline. If you’re sure about the kind of home you want and the neighborhood where you’d like to live, you need to begin working with a Realtor® now to help you find what you want, negotiate on your behalf and ensure that you meet the necessary deadlines, including loan qualification,” Golder said.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 4.99 percent in February from 5.03 percent in January; the rate was 5.13 percent in February 2009.

Single-family home sales declined 1.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.37 million in February from a pace of 4.43 million in January, but are 4.3 percent higher than the 4.19 million level a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $164,300 in February, down 2.1 percent from February 2009.

Existing condominium and co-op sales rose 4.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 650,000 in February from 620,000 in January, and are 30.3 percent above the 499,000-unit pace in February 2009. The median existing condo price[5] was $170,200 in February, down 0.2 percent from a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 2.4 percent to an annual pace of 840,000 in February and are 12.0 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $254,700, up 7.5 percent from February 2009.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 2.8 percent in February to a level of 1.11 million and are 8.8 percent higher than February 2009. The median price in the Midwest was $128,000, which is 2.0 percent below a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales slipped 1.1 percent to an annual pace of 1.85 million in February but are 6.9 percent above a year ago. The median price in the South was $139,600, down 4.2 percent from February 2009.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 4.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.22 million in February but are 3.4 percent higher than February 2009. The median price in the West was $207,900, down 9.8 percent from a year ago.

“A lack of affordable housing inventory is holding back sales and pressuring prices to be bid upwards in many California markets,” Yun noted.

The National Association of Realtors®, “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.

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NOTE: NAR also reports monthly comparisons of existing single-family home sales and median prices for 20 select metropolitan statistical areas, which is posted with other tables at: www.realtor.org/research/research/ehsdata. For information on areas not included in the report, please contact the

local association of Realtors®.

1 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 to 90 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.


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.

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 (prior to 1999, condos were measured quarterly while single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions).

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 First-time buyer and distressed sales data are from the Realtor® Confidence Index.

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

NOTE: NAR’s annual Vacation- and Investment-Home Buyers Survey will be published March 31. Existing-home sales for March will be released April 22. The next Pending Home Sales Index is scheduled for April 5; release times are 10 a.m. EDT.

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.

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