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Existing-Home Sales Decline in Economic Uncertainty

December 29, 2008

Existing-home sales weakened against a backdrop of an eroding economy, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – fell 8.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate¹ of 4.49 million units in November from a downwardly revised level of 4.91 million in October, and are 10.6 percent below the 5.02 million-unit pace in November 2007.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, expected a decline. “The quickly deteriorating conditions in the job market, stock market, and consumer confidence in October and November have knocked down home sales to another level. We hope the home sales impact from the stock market crash turns out to be short-lived, as was the case in 1987 and 2001,” he said.

“It is, therefore, imperative to provide incentives for homebuyers to get back into the market. It also depends on how effectively Congress and the new administration can help facilitate the short sales process and unclog the mortgage pipeline – impediments remain for some buyers with good credit,” Yun said. Watch a video of Lawrence Yun providing commentary on the data.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 6.09 percent in November from 6.20 percent in October; the rate was 6.21 percent in November 2007. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year rate fell to 5.19 percent – the lowest on record since the series began in 1971.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said it’s crucial to enact sufficient housing stimulus to spark an economic recovery. “We need more than low interest rates to encourage enough buyers to enter the market and meaningfully draw down inventory, which would stabilize home prices – that, in turn, would help the economy to recover,” he said.

“We should extend the first-time buyer tax credit to all homebuyers and eliminate the repayment feature, and make permanent the higher loan limits that are vital in high-cost markets – the faster we do this, the faster housing and the economy can recover,” McMillan said.

McMillan said NAR is grateful that the Treasury, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Federal Reserve have been working to bring interest rates down on most mortgages to historic lows.

Total housing inventory at the end of November rose 0.1 percent to 4.20 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 11.2-month supply² at the current sales pace, up from a 10.3-month supply in October.

Despite an overall softening in sales, there has been a solid trend of rising activity in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida markets. “Sales are rising only in areas with large numbers of distressed properties as bargain hunters take advantage of discounted home prices,” Yun said.

The national median existing-home price³ for all housing types was $181,300 in November, down 13.2 percent from November 2007 when the median was $208,800. 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.

Yun cautioned that there will be negative consequences if housing stimulus is delayed. “Falling home prices would lead to faster contraction in consumer spending and further deterioration in bank balance sheets. More importantly, falling home values would lead to higher loan defaults, including those recently modified distressed mortgages.”

Single-family home sales fell 8.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.02 million in November from a level of 4.37 million in October, and are 8.8 percent below a 4.41 million-unit pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $180,800 in November, down 12.8 percent from November 2007.

Existing condominium and co-op sales dropped 13.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 470,000 units in November from 540,000 in October, and are 23.1 percent below the 611,000-unit pace in November 2007. The median existing condo price4 was $185,400 in November, down 15.5 percent from a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast dropped 12.0 percent to an annual pace of 730,000 in November, and are 18.0 percent lower than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $257,700, down 0.1percent from November 2007.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest fell 7.4 percent in November to a pace of 1.00 million and are 16.0 percent below November 2007. The median price in the Midwest was $142,400, down 11.2 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales dropped 10.9 percent to an annual pace of 1.64 million in November, and are 17.6 percent below a year ago. The median price in the South was $154,500, which is 10.6 percent lower than November 2007.

Source: National Association of Realtors



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