Existing home sales growth continues in August

Sales of existing homes in the United States increased for the second month in a row in August, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of existing home sales—including single-family homes, condominiums, co-ops, and townhomes—stood at 5.49 million for the month. This was up 1.3 percent from July and a year-over-year increase of 2.6 percent, rising for the second consecutive month on both a monthly and annual basis.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, credited favorable mortgage rates for the rejuvenated sales activity. Although rates have been on the upswing in recent weeks, Freddie Mac determined that the average commitment rate for a fixed rate 30-year mortgage in August was 3.62 percent – down from 3.77 percent in July and 4.54 percent in 2018 as a whole.

"As expected, buyers are finding it hard to resist the current rates," said Yun. "The desire to take advantage of these promising conditions is leading more buyers to the market."

"Rates continue to be historically low, which is extremely beneficial for everyone buying or selling a home," said John Smaby, president of the National Association of Realtors. "The new condominium loan policies, as well as other reforms NAR is pursuing within our housing finance system, will allow even more families and individuals in this country to reach the American Dream of homeownership."

However, buyers continued to face challenges when searching for a home. Inventory was down 2.1 percent from the previous month and 2.6 percent from the previous year, with 1.86 million residences listed for sale in August. The median home price stood at $278,200, up 4.7 percent from August 2018 to mark the 90th straight month of annual gains.

The median price for a single-family home increased 4.7 percent to $280,700. The annual sales rate for this type of residence stood at 4.9 million, up 1.2 percent from the previous month and 2.9 percent from the previous year.

The annual rate for condominium and co-op sales increased 1.7 percent from July to 590,000 units, approximately matching the rate of August 2018. The median price for this type of home was $257,600, an annual increase of 5.2 percent.

"Sales are up, but inventory numbers remain low and are thereby pushing up home prices," said Yun. "Homebuilders need to ramp up new housing, as the failure to increase construction will put home prices in danger of increasing at a faster pace than income."

Existing homes sold in August had stayed on the market for an average of 31 days, two days slower than in July as well as August 2018. Just under half of the homes sold during the month—49 percent—had been listed for less than a month before finding a buyer.

Thirty-one percent of existing home sales in August went to people purchasing their first home. This share of first-time buyers was down from 32 percent in July but unchanged from August 2018.

Individual investors accounted for 14 percent of the month's sales, up from 11 percent in July and 13 percent in August 2018. Investors are typically responsible for many transactions made without financing, and 19 percent of August's sales were all-cash – unchanged from the previous month and down from 20 percent in the previous year.

Distressed properties, such as foreclosures and short sales, continued to make up a small share of transactions. Just 2 percent of the month's sales fell into this category, unchanged from July and down from 3 percent in August 2018.

In the Northeast, existing home sales stood at an annual rate of 710,000 in August – up 7.6 percent from the previous month and 1.4 percent from the previous year. The median price for a home in this region fell 0.3 percent to $303,500.

The Midwest had the strongest growth in sales, with its rate increasing 3.1 percent from July and 2.3 percent from August 2018 to 1.31 million. The region also had the most robust price growth, with the median price for a home increasing 6.6 percent to $220,000.

The rate of existing sales in the West stood at 1.14 million in August, down 3.4 percent from the previous month but up 1.8 percent from the previous year. The median price for a home was $415,900, a year-over-year increase of 5.7 percent.

In the South, the annual rate of 2.33 million sales was up 0.9 percent from July and 3.6 percent from August 2018. The median price for an existing home in the region was up 5.4 percent from the previous year to $240,300.

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