Existing-home sales declined in December following several months of stable activity, with total sales in 2007 still at the fifth highest on record, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – slipped 2.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million units in December from a pace of 5 million in November, and are 22 percent below the 6.27 million-unit level in December 2006.
For all of 2007 there were 5,652,000 existing-home sales, the fifth highest year on record. However, the total was 12.8 percent below the 6,478,000 transactions recorded in 2006.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the market is experiencing uncharacteristic weakness.
“Home sales remain weak despite improved affordability conditions in many parts of the country, but we could get a quick boost to the market if loan limits are raised in combination with the bold cut in the Fed funds rate,” he says. “Home prices are lower, mortgage interest rates continue to decline and incomes are higher, but many potential buyers are delaying a purchase.”
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 6.10 percent in December from 6.21 percent in November; the rate was 6.14 percent in December 2006. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed rate dropped to 5.69 percent.
“Although interest rates on jumbo loans have fallen somewhat, they remain well above conventional mortgage rates,” Yun says. “It isn’t surprising that the share of single-family homes selling for more than $500,000 fell to 12.4 percent of transactions in December from 14.2 percent a year ago.”
A Closer Look
NAR research also revealed the following:
– Inventory: total housing inventory fell 7.4 percent at the end of December to 3.91 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 10.1-month supply in November. “The fall in inventory in December is encouraging, but inventories remain elevated and buyers have a clear edge over sellers in many markets,” Yun says.
– Prices: the national median existing-home price for all housing types was $208,400 in December, down 6 percent from a year earlier when the median was $221,600. Because home sales have slowed the most in higher cost markets, there is a downward distortion to the national median as the mix of closed sales has changed over the past year. For all of 2007, the median price was $218,900, down 1.4 percent from a median of $221,900 in 2006.
– Single family homes: sales declined 2.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.31 million in December from 4.40 million in November, and are 21.6 percent below 5.50 million-unit level in December 2006. In all of 2007, single-family sales fell 13.0 percent to 4.94 million. The median existing single-family home price was $206,500 in December, down 6.5 percent from a year earlier. For all of 2007, the single-family median was $217,800, down 1.8 percent from 2006.
– Condo and co-op sales: existing condominium and co-op sales fell 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 580,000 units in December from 600,000 in November, and are 24.5 percent below the 768,000-unit pace a year ago. Condo sales for all of 2007 fell 11.0 percent to 713,000 units. The median existing condo price was $222,200 last month, which is 2.5 percent below December 2006. In all of 2007, the median condo price was $226,400, up 2.0 percent from 2006.
NAR: Loan Limits Need Raised
NAR President Richard Gaylord says that raising the loan limit on conventional financing is the most effective way to stimulate housing and minimize the potential for a recession. He calls for lawmakers to raise the limit on conforming mortgages to $625,000, which would open safe and affordable financing to buyers in high-cost areas.
“It is grossly unfair that some Americans do not have access to low-interest rate loans,” Gaylord says. “This would help people as they move away from risky subprime mortgages and high-interest rate jumbo loans.”
NAR projects the higher loan limit would increase annual home sales by nearly 350,000, reduce foreclosures by 140,000 to 210,000, and increase economic activity by $44 billion. “What’s more, this would come at no cost to taxpayers – it’s a policy change that could really boost the economy,” Gaylord says.
Other projections of NAR’s analysis show raising the loan limit would reduce the supply of homes on the market by 1 to 1.5 months, and strengthen home prices by 2 to 3 percentage points. In addition, as many as 500,000 jumbo loans would be refinanced to lower interest rates.
Gaylord says current housing conditions vary widely.
“Many local areas continue to have healthy or improving local housing markets,” he says. “For example, we saw higher home sales last month in diverse areas such as San Antonio; Syracuse; Springfield, Ill.; and Sarasota, Fla. If you’re thinking about getting into the market as a buyer or a seller, consult a Realtor® to learn about conditions in your area – they may be considerably different from the composite national picture.”
— REALTOR Magazine Online