Higher home prices keep lid on existing sales in July

Persistently high home prices brought existing home sales to their slowest pace in more than two years in July, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In its latest update on existing home sales—completed transactions of single-family homes, condominiums, co-ops, and townhomes—the organization put the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales at 5.34 million. This was a drop of 0.7 percent from June and a year-over-year decrease of 1.5 percent, making July the fifth straight month of annual declines in existing home sales. The pace was at its slowest level since February 2016.

"Too many would-be buyers are either being priced out, or are deciding to postpone their search until more homes in their price range come onto the market," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

The median price for an existing home was $269,600, a year-over-year increase of 4.5 percent. Median prices have grown on an annual basis for 77 consecutive months.

Single-family homes had a median price of $272,300, up 4.6 percent from July 2017. This type of property had an annual sales rate of 4.75 million, dropping 0.2 percent from the previous month and 1.2 percent from the previous year.

The annual rate for condominium and co-op sales stood at 590,000 units, down 4.8 percent from June and 3.3 percent from July 2017. The median sales price for this type of property was $248,100, climbing 3.2 percent from the previous year.

There were 1.92 million existing homes for sale during the month, the same number as in July 2017 and a drop of 0.5 percent from June. The inventory of existing homes available for purchase fell on an annual basis for three straight years before seeing a modest uptick in June.

Fifty-five percent of existing homes sold in July had been listed for less than a month. The average property sold in 27 days, one day slower than the previous month but three days faster than the previous year.

"Listings continue to go under contract in under a month, which highlights the feedback from Realtors that buyers are swiftly snatching up moderately-priced properties," said Yun. "Existing supply is still not at a healthy level, and new home construction is not keeping up to meet demand."

The share of first-time homebuyers remained relatively unchanged, with 32 percent of July's sales going to someone purchasing their first home. This share was up from 31 percent in June but down from 33 percent in July 2017.

Yun said that while a healthy economy and labor market are spurring demand for home purchases, first-time buyers are being stymied by both a lack of affordable listings and higher mortgage rates. According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage stood at 4.53 percent, down from 4.57 percent in June but up from the 2017 average of 3.99 percent.

Elizabeth Mendenhall, president of the National Association of Realtors, said Realtors in most areas of the country report that demand is highest in the entry-level segment of the housing market.

"For prospective first-timers looking to begin their home search this fall, it is expected that competition will remain swift," she said. "That is why it's important to be fully prepared with a pre-approval from a lender, and to begin conversations with a Realtor early about what you're looking for and where."

One in five existing homes sold in July were made without financing, down from 22 percent in June but up from 19 percent in July 2017. Individual investors, who usually account for most of these all-cash sales, made up 13 percent of July's existing home sales – unchanged from both the previous month and previous year.

The share of distressed properties fell to its lowest level since the National Association of Realtors began tracking the information in October 2008. Three percent of transactions were distressed properties, including 2 percent that were foreclosures and 1 percent that were short sales.

The West was the only region with some growth in existing home sales. The region's annual rate of 1.19 million sales was up 4.4 percent from June, but still 4 percent below the level of July 2017. The median price for a home in the West increased 5.1 percent to $392,700.

In the Northeast, the annual rate of 660,000 sales plunged 8.3 percent from June and was down 1.5 percent from July 2017. The median price for an existing home in the region climbed 6.8 percent to $309,700.

The sales rate in the South fell 0.4 percent from both the previous month and previous year to 2.24 million. Existing homes had a median price of $233,400, a year-over-year increase in 2.7 percent.

In the Midwest, the annual sales rate of 1.25 million homes was down 1.6 percent from June and 0.8 percent from July 2017. The median price for an existing home in the region rose 2.5 percent to $210,500.

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