Existing-home sales retreated in October on the heels of two strong monthly gains, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops, declined 2.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.43 million in October from 4.53 million in September, and are 25.9 percent below the 5.98-million-unit level in October 2009 when sales were surging prior to the initial deadline for the first-time buyer tax credit. Year-to-date there were 4.149 million existing-home sales, down 2.9 percent from 4.272 million at this time in 2009.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the recent sales pattern can be expected to continue. “The housing market is experiencing an uneven recovery, and a temporary foreclosure stoppage in some states is likely to have held back a number of completed sales. Still, sales activity is clearly off the bottom and is attempting to settle into normal, sustainable levels,” he said. “Based on current and improving job market conditions, and from attractive affordability conditions, sales should steadily improve to healthier levels of above 5 million by spring of next year.”
Tight Credit Hurting the Market
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 4.23 percent in October from 4.35 percent in September; the rate was 4.95 percent in October 2009.
The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $170,500 in October, down 0.9 percent from October 2009. Distressed homes accounted for 34 percent of sales in October, compared with 35 percent in September and 30 percent of sales in October 2009.
NAR President Ron Phipps clarified that several factors are restraining a housing recovery, even with great affordability conditions. “We’ll likely see some impact from the foreclosure moratorium in the months ahead, but overly tight credit is making it difficult for some creditworthy borrowers to qualify for a mortgage, and we are continuing to deal with a notable share of appraisals coming in below a price negotiated between a buyer and seller,” he said.
“A return to common sense loan underwriting standards would go a long way toward achieving responsible, sustainable home ownership. In addition, all home valuations should be made by competent professionals with local expertise and full access to market data – there remains an elevated level of appraisals that fail to provide accurate valuation, which is causing a steady level of sales to be cancelled or postponed,” Phipps said.
A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows 10 percent of REALTORS® in October report they had a contract cancelled as a result of a low appraisal, and 13 percent report they had a contract delayed; 16 percent said a contract was negotiated to a lower sales price as a result of a low appraisal. According to FHFA, Fannie- and Freddie-backed mortgages that were recently originated show an outstanding performance, even better than during the pre-housing bubble years.
“A review of recently originated loans suggests that they have overly stringent underwriting standards, with only the highest creditworthy borrowers able to tap into historically low mortgage interest rates. There could be an upside surprise to sales activity if credit availability is opened to more qualified home buyers who are willing to stay well within budget,” Yun added.
Total housing inventory at the end of October fell 3.4 percent to 3.86 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 10.5-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 10.6-month supply in September.
First-time buyers purchased 32 percent of homes in October, unchanged from September, but down from 50 percent a year ago during the initial surge for the first-time buyer tax credit. Investors accounted for 19 percent of transactions in October; they were 18 percent in September and 14 percent in October 2009; the balance of sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales were at 29 percent in October, unchanged from September but up from 20 percent a year ago.
Single-family home sales declined 2.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.89 million in October from 3.97 million in September, and are 25.6 percent below the 5.23 million surge in October 2009. The median existing single-family home price was $171,100 in October, which is 0.5 percent below a year ago.
Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 540,000 in October from 560,000 in September, and are 27.6 percent below the 746,000-unit sales rush a year ago. The median existing condo price was $166,000 in October, down 4.2 percent from October 2009.
Existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 1.3 percent to an annual pace of 750,000 in October and are 27.2 percent below the surge in October 2009. The median price in the Northeast was $240,200, which is 1.9 percent higher than a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest slipped 1.1 percent in October to a level of 940,000 and are 32.4 percent below the tax credit rush one year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $139,500, down 3.6 percent from October 2009.
In the South, existing-home sales fell 3.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.71 million in October and are 24.0 percent below the year-ago surge. The median price in the South was $148,700, down 0.7 percent from October 2009.
Existing-home sales in the West declined 1.9 percent to an annual level of 1.03 million in October and are 21.4 percent below the sales rush in October 2009. The median price in the West was $209,300, which is 4.8 percent below a year ago.