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NAR: Existing-Home Sales Climb 3.6% in Dec.

Inventory continues to fall, but shoppers appear ready to buy what’s available. While sales rose at the end of 2019, total yearly sales were about equal to those in 2018.

WASHINGTON – Existing-home sales grew in December, bouncing back after a slight fall in November, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Although the Midwest saw sales decline, the other three major U.S. regions reported meaningful growth last month.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – increased 3.6% from November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million in December. In a year-to-year comparison, the increase is even higher – up 10.8% compared to 5 million in December 2019.

For all of 2019, NAR says that home sales remained stable compared to 2018 but didn’t increase. On a full-year basis (not seasonally adjusted), total existing-home sales ended at 5.34 million – the same level as in 2018. Sales in the South region, which includes Florida, were up 2.2%, offsetting a 1.8% decline in the West and 1.6% drop in the Midwest. The Northeast remained unchanged.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, says home sales fluctuated a lot in 2019.

“I view 2019 as a neutral year for housing in terms of sales,” Yun says. “Home sellers are positioned well, but prospective buyers aren’t as fortunate. Low inventory remains a problem, with first-time buyers affected the most.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $274,500, up 7.8% from December 2018 ($254,700), as prices rose in every region. November’s price increase marks 94 straight months of year-over-year gains.

“Price appreciation has rapidly accelerated, and areas that are relatively unaffordable or declining in affordability are starting to experience slower job growth,” Yun says. “The hope is for (home) price appreciation to slow in line with wage growth, which is about 3%.”

Total U.S. housing inventory at the end of December was 1.40 million units, down 14.6% from November and 8.5% year-to-year. Unsold inventory sat at a 3.0-month supply at the current sales pace, down from the 3.7-month figure recorded in the month before and in December 2018.

Unsold inventory totals have dropped for seven consecutive months in year-to-year comparisons, taking a toll on home sales.

Properties typically remained on the market for 41 days in December, seasonally up from 38 days in November, but down from 46 days in December 2018. Forty-three percent of homes sold in December 2019 were on the market for less than a month.

First-time buyers were responsible for 31% of sales in December, moderately down from the 32% seen in both November and in December 2018. According to NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, the annual share of first-time buyers was 33%.

Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 17% of homes in December 2019, up from 16% in November and 15% in December 2018. All-cash sales accounted for 20% of transactions in December, unchanged from November and down slightly from 22% in December 2018.

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented 2% of sales in December, unchanged from both November 2019 and December 2018.

Yun says conditions for buying are favorable and expects that to continue in 2020.

“We saw the year come to a close with the economy churning out 2.3 million jobs, mortgage rates below 4% and housing starts ramp up to 1.6 million on an annual basis,” he says. “If these factors are sustained in 2020, we will see a notable pickup in home sales in 2020.”

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.72% in December, up from 3.70% in November. The average commitment rate across all of 2019 was 3.94%.

“NAR is expecting 2020 to be a great year for housing,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “Our leadership team is hard at work to secure policies that will keep our housing market moving in the right direction, like promoting infrastructure reform, strengthening fair housing protections and ensuring mortgage capital remains available to responsible, mortgage-ready Americans.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales: Single-family home sales sat at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million in December, up from 4.79 million in November, and up 10.6% year-to-year. The median existing single-family home price was $276,900 in December 2019, up 8.0% from December 2018.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 620,000 units in December, up 10.7% from November and 12.7% year-to-year. The median existing condo price was $255,400 in December – an increase of 6.0% from a year ago.

Regional breakdown: Compared to last month, December sales increased in the Northeast, South and West regions, while year-over-year sales were up in each of the four regions. Median home prices in all regions increased from one year ago, with the Midwest region showing the strongest price gain.

  • December 2019 existing-home sales in the Northeast grew 5.7% to an annual rate of 740,000, up 8.8% from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $304,400, up 7.4% from December 2018.
  • Existing-home sales decreased 1.5% in the Midwest to an annual rate of 1.30 million, which is up 9.2% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $208,500, a 9.2% jump from last December.
  • Existing-home sales in the South grew 5.4% to an annual rate of 2.36 million in December, up 12.4% from a year ago. The median price in the South was $240,500, a 6.7% increase from this time last year.
  • Existing-home sales in the West rose 4.6% to an annual rate of 1.14 million in December, a 10.7% increase from a year ago. The median price in the West was $411,800, up 8.1% from December 2018.

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