Existing home sales up 2.5 percent in May

The pace of existing home sales rose for the first time in two months in May, according to the National Association of Realtors. However, the sales rate was still down on an annual basis for the 15th consecutive month.

Sales of single-family homes, condominiums, co-ops, and townhomes were proceeding at an annual rate of 5.34 million in May. This was up 2.5 percent from April, but down 1.1 percent from May 2018.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, suggested that consumers were taking advantage of favorable conditions during the busy spring season. These include a steadily increasing inventory of homes for sale and falling mortgage rates.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell from 4.14 percent in April to 4.07 percent in May. This was also down more than half a point from the average rate of 4.54 percent for 2018 as a whole.

A total of 1.92 million existing homes were listed for sale in May, up from 1.83 million in the previous month and 1.87 million in the previous year. However, Yun said the supply of homes available for purchase remains near historic lows, while available properties are out of the price range of many potential buyers.

"Solid demand along with inadequate inventory of affordable homes have pushed the median home price to a new record high," said Yun. "More new homes need to be built. Otherwise, we risk worsening the housing shortage, and an increasing number of middle-class families will be unable to achieve homeownership."

The median price for an existing home in May was $277,700, a year-over-year increase of 4.8 percent. Median home prices have gone up on an annual basis for 87 months in a row.

Single-family homes had a median sales price of $280,200, a 4.6 percent increase from May 2018. The annual pace for this type of residence stood at 4.75 million, a 2.6 percent increase from April but a year-over-year drop of 0.8 percent.

Condominiums and co-ops sold for a median price of $257,100, an annual increase of 5.4 percent. The annual sales rate of 590,000 marked a 1.7 percent increase from the previous month but a 3.3 percent drop from the previous year.

Homes sold in May had been listed for an average of 26 days, unchanged from the previous year and two days slower than the previous month. Fifty-three percent of residences sold in May had been on the market for less than a month.

"The month of May ushered in the home sales upswing that we had been expecting," said John Smaby, president of the National Association of Realtors. "Sales are strengthening in all regions while we see price appreciation for recent buyers."

Thirty-two percent of May's sales went to buyers purchasing their first home, unchanged from April and up from 31 percent in May 2018. This was also down slightly from the first-time buyer share of 33 percent in the National Association of Realtors' 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, a report released in October 2018.

Nineteen percent of May's sales were made without financing, down from shares of 20 percent in April and 21 percent in May 2018. Investment activity, which accounts for many all-cash sales, was also down. Individual investors accounted for 13 percent of May's sales, down from 16 percent in the previous month and 14 percent in the previous year.

Just 2 percent of May's sales were distressed properties, dropping from 3 percent in both April and May 2018. Short sales accounted for fewer than 1 percent of the month's transactions.

The Northeast had the strongest growth in sales, with its annual rate increasing 4.7 percent to 670,000 – approximately equal to that of May 2018. The median sales price in the region was also the strongest among all regions, growing 6.6 percent from the previous year to $304,100.

In the Midwest, the annual sales rate of 1.22 million marked a 3.4 percent increase from the previous month but a 3.9 percent decrease from the previous year. The median sales price in the region climbed 5.6 percent from May 2018 to $220,500.

The annual sales rate in the West was 1.13 million, up 1.8 percent from April but a year-over-year drop of 3.4 percent. The region's median sales price of $409,100 was a 4.1 percent increase from May 2018.

The South had an annual sales rate of 2.32 million, up 1.8 percent from the previous month and 1.3 percent from the previous year. The median price in the region increased 3.6 percent from the previous year to $241,400.

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