WASHINGTON,– Existing-home sales retreated in March, following February’s surge of sales, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major U.S. regions saw a drop-off in sales, with the Midwest enduring the largest decline last month.
Total existing-home sales1, https://www.nar.realtor/existing-home-sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 4.9% from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.21 million in March. Sales as a whole are down 5.4% from a year ago (5.51 million in March 2018).
Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, anticipated waning in the numbers for March. “It is not surprising to see a retreat after a powerful surge in sales in the prior month. Still, current sales activity is underperforming in relation to the strength in the jobs markets. The impact of lower mortgage rates has not yet been fully realized.”
The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in March was $259,400, up 3.8% from March 2018 ($249,800). March’s price increase marks the 85th straight month of year-over-year gains.
Total housing inventory3 at the end of March increased to 1.68 million, up from 1.63 million existing homes available for sale in February and a 2.4% increase from 1.64 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 3.9-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 3.6 months in February and up from 3.6 months in March 2018.
“Further increases in inventory are highly desirable to keep home prices in check,” says Yun. “The sustained steady gains in home sales can occur when home price appreciation grows at roughly the same pace as wage growth.”
Properties remained on the market for an average of 36 days in March, down from 44 days in February but up from 30 days a year ago. Forty-seven percent of homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month.
Yun says tax policy changes will likely add further complications to the housing sector. “The lower-end market is hot while the upper-end market is not. The expensive home market will experience challenges due to the curtailment of tax deductions of mortgage interest payments and property taxes.”
Realtor.com®‘s Market Hotness Index, measuring time-on-the-market data and listing views per property, revealed that the hottest metro areas in March were Columbus, Ohio; Boston–Cambridge–Newton, Mass.; Midland, Texas; Sacramento—Roseville–Arden-Arcade, Calif.; and Stockton–Lodi, Calif.
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage decreased to 4.27% in March from 4.37% in February. The average commitment rate across all of 2018 was 4.54%.
“We had been calling for additional inventory, so I am pleased to see that there has been a modest increase on that front,” said NAR President John Smaby, a second-generation Realtor® from Edina, Minnesota and broker at Edina Realty. “We’re also seeing very favorable mortgage rates, so now would be a great time for those buyers who may have been waiting to make a purchase.”
First-time buyers were responsible for 33% of sales in March, up from last month and a year ago (32% and 30%). NAR’s 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 20184 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 33%.
All-cash sales accounted for 21% of transactions in March, down from February’s 23%, but up from a year ago (20%). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 18% of homes in March, up from February’s 16%, and up from a year ago (16%).
Distressed sales5 – foreclosures and short sales – represented 3% of sales in March, down from 4% last month and down from 4% in March 2018. One percent of March 2019 sales were short sales.
Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales
Single-family home sales sit at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.67 million in March, down from 4.91 million in February and down 4.7% from 4.90 million a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $261,100 in March, up 3.8% from March 2018.
Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 540,000 units in March, down 5.3% from last month and down 11.5% from a year ago. The median existing condo price was $244,400 in March, which is up 3.6% from a year ago.
March existing-home sales numbers in the Northeast decreased 2.9% to an annual rate of 670,000, 1.5% below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $277,500, which is up 2.5% from March 2018.
In the Midwest, existing-home sales declined 7.9% from last month to an annual rate of 1.17 million, 8.6% below March 2018 levels. The median price in the Midwest was $200,500, which is up 4.6% from last year.
Existing-home sales in the South dropped 3.4% to an annual rate of 2.28 million in March, down 2.1% from last year. The median price in the South was $227,400, up 2.4% from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West fell 6.0% to an annual rate of 1.09 million in March, 10.7% below a year ago. The median price in the West was $389,300, up 3.1% from March 2018.
The National Association of Realtors® is America’s largest trade association, representing more than 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.
NOTE: For local information, please contact the local association of Realtors® for data from local multiple listing services. Local MLS data is the most accurate source of sales and price information in specific areas, although there may be differences in reporting methodology.
1Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from Multiple Listing Services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. NAR rebenchmarks home sales periodically using other sources to assess overall home sales trends, including sales not reported by MLSs.
Existing-home sales, based on closings, differ 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 account for more than 90% of total home sales, are based on a much larger data sample – about 40% 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.
2The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical of market conditions than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to 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 additional data is received.
The national median condo/co-op price often is higher than the median single-family home price because condos are concentrated in higher-cost housing markets. However, in a given area, single-family homes typically sell for more than condos as seen in NAR’s quarterly metro area price reports.
3Total 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, single-family sales accounted for more than 90% of transactions and condos were measured only on a quarterly basis).
4Survey results represent owner-occupants and differ from separately reported monthly findings from NAR’s Realtors®Confidence Index, which include all types of buyers. Investors are under-represented in the annual study because survey questionnaires are mailed to the addresses of the property purchased and generally are not returned by absentee owners. Results include both new and existing homes.
5Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions and investors are from a monthly survey for the NAR’s Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at nar.realtor.
NOTE: NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index for March is scheduled for release on April 30, and Existing-Home Sales for April will be released May 21; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.