July existing-home sales fall, but prices rise

WASHINGTON, D.C. – August 24, 2010 – Existing-home sales were sharply lower in July following expiration of the home buyer tax credit but home prices continued to gain, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops, dropped 27.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.83 million units in July from a downwardly revised 5.26 million in June, and are 25.5 percent below the 5.14 million-unit level in July 2009. Sales are at the lowest level since the total existing-home sales series launched in 1999, and single family sales – accounting for the bulk of transactions – are at the lowest level since May of 1995.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said a soft sales pace likely will continue for a few additional months. “Consumers rationally jumped into the market before the deadline for the home buyer tax credit expired. Since May, after the deadline, contract signings have been notably lower and a pause period for home sales is likely to last through September,” he said. “However, given the rock-bottom mortgage interest rates and historically high housing affordability conditions, the pace of a sales recovery could pick up quickly, provided the economy consistently adds jobs.

“Even with sales pausing for a few months, annual sales are expected to reach 5 million in 2010 because of healthy activity in the first half of the year. To place in perspective, annual sales averaged 4.9 million in the past 20 years, and 4.4 million over the past 30 years,” Yun added.

Mortgage Rates Dip
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 4.56 percent in July from 4.74 percent in June; the rate was 5.22 percent in July 2009. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed was down to 4.42 percent.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $182,600 in July, up 0.7 percent from a year ago. Distressed home sales are unchanged from June, accounting for 32 percent of transactions in July; they were 31 percent in July 2009.

“Thanks to the home buyer tax credit, home values have been stable for the past 18 months despite heavy job losses,” Yun said. “Over the short term, high supply in relation to demand clearly favors buyers. However, given that home values are back in line relative to income, and from very low new-home construction, there is not likely to be any measurable change in home prices going forward.”

Inventory Rises
Total housing inventory at the end of July increased 2.5 percent to 3.98 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 12.5-month supply at the current sales pace, up from an 8.9-month supply in June. Raw unsold inventory is still 12.9 percent below the record of 4.58 million in July 2008.

NAR President Vicki Cox Golder said there are great opportunities now for buyers who weren’t able to take advantage of the tax credit. “Mortgage interest rates are at record lows, home prices have firmed and there is good selection of property in most areas, so buyers with good jobs and favorable credit ratings find themselves in a fortunate position,” she said.

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 38 percent of homes in July, down from 43 percent in June. Investors accounted for 19 percent of sales in July, up from 13 percent in June; the balance were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales rose to 30 percent in July from 24 percent in June.

Breakdown of the Numbers
• Single-family home sales dropped 27.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.37 million in July from a pace of 4.62 million in June, and are 25.6 percent below the 4.53 million level in July 2009; they were the lowest since May 1995 when the sales rate was 3.34 million.

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