April Existing-Home Sales Ease

Washington, DC. May 19, 2011
Existing-home sales slipped in April, although the market has managed six gains in the past nine months, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales(1), which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, eased 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million in April from a downwardly revised 5.09 million in March, and are 12.9 percent below a 5.80 million pace in April 2010; sales surged in April and May of 2010 in response to the home buyer tax credit.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the market is underperforming. “Given the great affordability conditions, job creation and pent-up demand, home sales should be stronger,” he said. “Although existing-home sales are expected to trend up unevenly through next year, unnecessarily tight credit is continuing to restrain the market, along with a steady level of low appraisals that result in contract cancellations.”

A parallel NAR practitioner survey(2) shows 11 percent of Realtors® report a contract was cancelled in April from an appraisal coming in below the price negotiated between a buyer and seller, 10 percent had a contract delayed, and 14 percent said a contract was renegotiated to a lower sales price as a result of a low appraisal.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.84 percent in April, unchanged from March; the rate was 5.10 percent in April 2010.

“Although sales are clearly up from the cyclical lows of last summer, home sales are being held back 15 to 20 percent due to the very restrictive loan underwriting standards,” Yun said.

All-cash transactions stood at 31 percent in April, down from a record level of 35 percent in March; they were 26 percent in March 2010; investors account for the bulk of cash purchases.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said the lending community needs to return to sensible standards. “We want to ensure that qualified buyers will be able to own their property on a sustained basis from a sound credit evaluation, but banks needn’t be so stingy as to only lend to those with the highest credit scores,” he said.

“Very high shares of cash purchases, and high credit score requirements, have led to historically low default rates among home buyers over the past two years. This trend implies a gulf is opening between those who can and cannot have access to the American dream of home ownership,” Phipps said. “At the same time, existing guidelines from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae must be fully implemented so all appraisals are done by valuators with local expertise.”

The national median existing-home price(3) for all housing types was $163,700 in April, which is 5.0 percent below April 2010. Distressed homes – typically sold at a discount of about 20 percent – accounted for 37 percent of sales in April, down from 40 percent in March; they were 33 percent in April 2010.

“Home values, despite month-to-month volatility, have been remarkably stable in the range of $160,000 to $170,000 for the past three years,” Yun said. “Stable home prices in turn will steadily lower loan default rates, including strategic defaults.”

Total housing inventory at the end of April increased 9.9 percent to 3.87 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.2-month supply(4) at the current sales pace, up from an 8.3-month supply in March.

First-time buyers purchased 36 percent of homes in April, up from 33 percent in March; they were 49 percent in April 2010 when the tax credit was in place. Investors slipped to 20 percent in April from 22 percent of purchase activity in March; they were 15 percent in April 2010. The balance of sales was to repeat buyers, which were 44 percent in April.

Phipps added that proposals and regulations are being considered in Washington that could further constrain the housing market. “One of the most damaging proposals would effectively raise downpayment requirements to 20 percent, which would slam the brakes on the housing market,” he said. “What we need to do is simply return to the sound standards that were in place before the introduction of risky mortgage products.”

“Our data shows only one out of five first-time buyers needing a mortgage could afford a 20 percent downpayment, and without first-time buyers the trade-up market would stall with very negative consequences for housing and the overall economy,” Phipps said. “Ironically, low downpayment FHA and VA loans, which are so critical to this segment, have performed well and never needed a taxpayer bailout because those borrowers stayed well within their budgets.” NAR consumer survey data shows 56 percent of entry level buyers in the past year financed with an FHA loan.

Single-family home sales slipped 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.42 million in April from 4.44 million in March, and are 12.6 percent below the 5.06 million pace in April 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $163,200 in April, which is 5.4 percent below a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 630,000 in April from 650,000 in March, and are 15.0 percent below the 741,000-unit level one year ago. The median existing condo price5 was $167,300 in April, down 2.3 percent from April 2010.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 7.5 percent to an annual pace of 740,000 in April and are 32.1 percent below a year-ago surge. The median price in the Northeast was $225,400, which is 7.3 percent below April 2010.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 5.7 percent in April to a level of 1.12 million but are 16.4 percent below a cyclical peak in April 2010. The median price in the Midwest was $133,200, down 5.1 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales declined 1.0 percent to an annual pace of 1.95 million in April and are 9.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the South was $142,800, which is 4.1 percent lower than April 2010.

Existing-home sales in the West slipped 1.6 percent to an annual level of 1.24 million in April and are 0.8 percent below April 2010. The median price in the West was $203,400, down 6.1 percent from a year ago.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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NOTE: NAR also tracks monthly comparisons of existing single-family home sales and median prices for select metropolitan statistical areas, which is posted with other tables at: www.realtor.org/research/research/ehsdata. For information on areas not included in the report, please contact the local association of Realtors®.

(1)Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings. This differs from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which generally account for 85 to 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample – more than 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.

Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.

Benchmark Revisions: All major statistical data series go through periodic reviews and revisions to ensure that sampling and methodology keep up with changes in the market, such as population changes in sampled areas, to ensure accuracy. NAR began its normal process for benchmarking sales earlier this year; there will be no change to median prices. In the past we’ve benchmarked to the decennial Census, most recently to the 2000 Census, because it included home sales data. However, the data are no longer included in the Census, so we’re looking at more frequent benchmarking using a new approach with independent sources to improve our process and modeling. As always, we are consulting with various outside housing economists, government agencies and academic experts for a consensus on the methodology; NAR is committed to providing accurate, reliable data. Publication of the revisions is expected this summer.

(2)Distressed sales, first-time buyers, investors, contract cancellations and all-cash transactions are from a survey for the Realtors® Confidence Index, scheduled to be posted May 23.

(3)The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if more data is received than was originally reported.

(4)Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, condos were measured quarterly while single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions).

(5)Because there is a concentration of condos in high-cost metro areas, the national median condo price often is higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.

The Pending Home Sales Index for April will be released May 27, and existing-home sales for May is scheduled for June 21; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.

Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org. This and other news releases are posted in the News Media section. Statistical data in this release, other tables and surveys also may be found by clicking on Research.

REALTOR® is a registered collective membership mark which may be used only by real estate professionals who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. Not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. All REALTORS® are members of NAR.

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