U.S. existing-home sales rise 3.6% in December

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U.S. existing-home sales reversed course in December, rising 3.6% from the previous month’s pace, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops – rose to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.54 million. This means sales are 10.8% above December 2018’s rate.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist said home sales fluctuated a great deal last year.

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

In December, total homes available for sale came in at 1.4 million, down a whopping 14.6% from November and 8.5% from 2018’s rate of 1.53 million.

There was a 3-month supply of unsold inventory at the current sales pace, down from 3.7 in November and December 2018. Properties stayed on the market an average of 41 days in December, rising from 38 days in November but down from 46 days in 2018. The report states that 43% of homes stayed on the market for less than a month.

According to NAR, the median price for an existing home was $274,500, a gain of 7.8% from 2018’s rate of $254,700. This marks the 94th straight month 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 said. “The hope is for price appreciation to slow in line with wage growth, which is about 3%.”

The average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased from 3.7% in November to 3.72% in December and the average commitment rate for all of 2019 was 3.94%, according to Freddie Mac.

First-time buyers comprised 31% of sales in December, slightly down from November and December 2018’s rate of 32%. NAR revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers held steady at 33%.

Single-family home sales increased from a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.79 million in November to 4.92 million in December, which is 10.6% above 2018’s rate. The median existing single-family home price was $276,900 in December, increasing 8% from 2018’s rate. 

Existing condominium and co-op sales recorded a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 620,000 units in December, which is up 10.7% from November’s rate and 12.7% higher than 2018. The median existing condo price was $255,400 in December, rising 6% from two years ago. 

Here’s a regional breakdown of the nation’s existing-home sales:

Existing-home sales in the Northeast grew 5.7% from the prior month’s rate to an annual rate of 740,000, which is up 8.8% from 2018. The median price in the Northeast increased by 7.4% from December 2018 and came in at $304,400.In the Midwest, existing-home sales fell from the previous month’s pace by 1.5%, coming in at an annual rate of 1.3 million, which is up 9.2% from December 2018’s level. The median price in the Midwest was $208,500, increasing 9.2% from December 2018.Southern existing home sales increased by 5.4% to an annual rate of 2.36 million in December, up 12.4% from 2018. The median price in the South climbed to $240,500, growing 6.7% from December 2018.Existing-home sales in the West increased by 4.6% to an annual rate of 1.14 million in December, which is a 10.7% rise from 2018’s rate. The median price in the West was $411,800, increasing 8.1% from this time in 2018.
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