Buyers responding to the home buyer tax credit and favorable affordability conditions boosted existing-home sales in March, marking the beginning of an expected spring surge, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops, rose 6.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million units in March from 5.01 million in February, and are 16.1 percent above the 4.61 million-unit level in March 2009.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said it is encouraging to see a broad home sales recovery in nearly every part of the country, with two important underlying trends. “Sales have been above year-ago levels for nine straight months, and inventory has trended down from year-ago levels for 20 months running,” he said. “The home buyer tax credit has been a resounding success as these underlying trends point to a broad stabilization in home prices. This is preserving perhaps $1 trillion in largely middle-class housing wealth that may have been wiped out without the housing stimulus measure.”
Rise in Inventories, Prices
Total housing inventory at the end of March rose 1.5 percent to 3.58 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.0-month supply at the current sales pace, down from an 8.5-month supply in February. Raw unsold inventory is 1.8 percent below a year ago, and is 21.7 percent below the record of 4.58 million in July 2008.
“Foreclosures have been feeding into the inventory pipeline at a fairly steady pace and are being absorbed manageably,” Yun said. “In fact, foreclosures are selling quickly, especially in the lower-price ranges that are attractive to first-time home buyers.”
A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 44 percent of homes in March, up from 42 percent in February. Investors accounted for 19 percent of transactions in March, unchanged from February; the remaining sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales remain elevated at 27 percent in March, the same as in February.
The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $170,700 in March, up 0.4 percent from March 2009. Distressed homes, typically sold at a 15 percent discount, accounted for 35 percent of sales last month – unchanged from February.
“With home values stabilizing, a revival in home buying confidence will likely help the housing market get back on its feet even as the tax credit impact disappears,” Yun said.
A Great Time to Buy
NAR President Vicki Cox Golder said buying conditions are in near-perfect alignment. “Even with tougher loan standards, historically low mortgage interest rates with affordable prices and a sense that the market is turning have created optimal conditions in much of the country,” she said.
“With the fast-approaching April 30 deadline to get a contract in place for the tax credit, REALTORS® are working harder than ever to negotiate transactions, arrange services and complete paperwork,” Golder said. “Because many repeat buyers need to sell their current home first, many will be purchasing later without the tax credit but now have the benefit of a more buoyant housing market.”
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 4.97 percent in March from 4.99 percent in February; the rate was 5.00 percent in March 2009.
Single-family home sales rose 7.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million in March from a level of 4.36 million in February, and are 13.3 percent above the 4.13 million level a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $170,700 in March, up 0.6 percent from March 2009.
Regional, Metro Area Performances
Single-family median prices rose in 14 out of 20 metropolitan statistical areas reported in March in comparison with a year earlier. Five metro areas experienced double-digit increases, including San Diego, St. Louis, and Boston.
Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 in March from 650,000 in February, and are 39.3 percent higher than the 481,000-unit level in March 2009. The median existing condo price was $170,600 in March, which is 0.7 percent below a year ago.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 6.0 percent to an annual level of 890,000 in March and are 25.4 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $249,800, up 8.9 percent from March 2009.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 7.2 percent in March to a pace of 1.19 million and are 15.5 percent above March 2009. The median price in the Midwest was $139,300, up 0.2 percent from a year ago.
In the South, existing-home sales increased 7.1 percent to an annual level of 1.97 million in March and are 13.9 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the South was $154,800, up 5.2 percent from March 2009.
Existing-home sales in the West rose 6.6 percent to an annual rate of 1.30 million in March and are 14.0 percent above March 2009. The median price in the West was $209,400, down 7.9 percent from a year ago.