March Existing Home Sales Up as Inventory Continues Building

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The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of existing home sales in March rose 4.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.71 million from a downwardly revised total of 5.47 million in February.

The consensus estimate called for sales to reach 5.605 million, according to a survey of economists polled by Bloomberg. Total sales in 2016 came in at 5.45 million to surpass 2015’s total of 5.25 million as the most sales since 2006 when 6.48 million homes were sold.

The NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, said:

The early returns so far this spring buying season look very promising as a rising number of households dipped their toes into the market and were successfully able to close on a home last month. Although finding available properties to buy continues to be a strenuous task for many buyers, there was enough of a monthly increase in listings in March for sales to muster a strong gain. Sales will go up as long as inventory does.

Housing inventory increased by 5.8% in March to 1.83 million homes, equal to a supply of just 3.8 months, unchanged month over month, and has fallen year over year for 22 consecutive months. Inventory is down 6.6% year over year from 1.96 million in March 2016.

According to the NAR, the national median existing-home price for all housing types in March was $236,400, up 6.8% compared with March 2016, the 61st consecutive month of rising home prices. In February the national median price was also $228,400.

The percentage of first-time buyers was unchanged at 32% in March, and up from 30% in March 2016. For all of 2016, first-time buyers accounted for 35% of sales.

Sales of single-family homes rose 4.3% from the February total of 4.87 million to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.08 million, and they are up 6.1% compared with March 2016. Sales of multifamily homes increased 5% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 630,000 units.

All homes were on the market for an average of 34 days in March, down from 45 days in February and down from 47 days in March 2016. Foreclosed and nondistressed homes were on the market for an average of 52 and 32 days, respectively, and short sales took a median of 90 days to sell.

The NAR also reported the following regional data.

March existing-home sales in the Northeast surged 10.1% year over year to an annual rate of 760,000, up 4.1% compared with March 2016. The median price in the Northeast was $260,800, up 2.8% compared with last March.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales jumped by 9.2% to an annual rate of 1.31 million in March and are now 3.1% higher than March 2016 sales. The median price in the Midwest was $183,000, up 6.2% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South rose 3.4% in March to an annual rate of 2.42 million and are 8.5% higher than March 2016 sales. The median price in the South was $210,600, up 8.6% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West dropped 1.6% to an annual rate of 1.22 million in March, but they remain 5.2% higher than March 2016 totals. The median price in the West was $347,500, up 8% compared with the March 2016 median.