Existing-Home Sales Climb 1.1 Percent in March

WASHINGTON (April 23, 2018) — Existing-home sales grew for the second consecutive month in March, but lagging inventory levels and affordability constraints kept sales activity below year ago levels, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales1, https://www.nar.realtor/existing-home-sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 1.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.60 million in March from 5.54 million in February. Despite last month's increase, sales are still 1.2 percent below a year ago.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings in March eked forward despite challenging market conditions in most of the country. "Robust gains last month in the Northeast and Midwest – a reversal from the weather-impacted declines seen in February – helped overall sales activity rise to its strongest pace since last November at 5.72 million," said Yun. "The unwelcoming news is that while the healthy economy is generating sustained interest in buying a home this spring, sales are lagging year ago levels because supply is woefully low and home prices keep climbing above what some would-be buyers can afford."

See and share an infographic containing highlights of the latest existing-home sales numbers.

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in March was $250,400, up 5.8 percent from March 2017 ($236,600). March's price increase marks the 73rd straight month of year-over-year gains.

"Although the strong job market and recent tax cuts are boosting the incomes of many households, speedy price growth is squeezing overall affordability in several markets – especially those out West," said Yun.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of March climbed 5.7 percent to 1.67 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 7.2 percent lower than a year ago (1.80 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 34 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.6-month supply at the current sales pace (3.8 months a year ago). 

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased for the sixth straight month to 4.44 percent in March (highest since 4.46 percent in December 2013) from 4.33 percent in February. The average commitment rate for all of 2017 was 3.99 percent.

Properties typically stayed on the market for 30 days in March, which is down from 37 days in February and 34 days a year ago. Fifty percent of homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month.

"Realtors® throughout the country are seeing the seasonal ramp-up in buyer demand this spring but without the commensurate increase in new listings coming onto the market," said Yun. "As a result, competition is swift and homes are going under contract in roughly a month, which is four days faster than last year and a remarkable 17 days faster than March 2016."

Realtor.com®'s Market Hotness Index, measuring time-on-the-market data and listings views per property, revealed that the hottest metro areas in March were San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.; Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Midland, Texas; and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

First-time buyers were 30 percent of sales in March, which is up from 29 percent last month but down from 32 percent a year ago. NAR's 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 20174 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 34 percent.

NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty, says the extremely tight inventory in the entry-level segment of the market should greatly benefit homeowners looking to trade up this spring. "First-time buyers continue to make up an underperforming share of the market because there are simply not enough homes for sale in their price range," she said. "Supply conditions improve in higher up price brackets, which means those trading up should see considerable interest in their home, as well as more listings to choose from during their own search."

All-cash sales were 20 percent of transactions in March, which is down from 24 percent in February and 23 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 15 percent of homes in March, which is unchanged from February and down from 18 percent a year ago.

Distressed sales5 – foreclosures and short sales – were 4 percent of sales in March, unchanged from February and down from 6 percent a year ago. Three percent of March sales were foreclosures and 1 percent were short sales.

Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales rose inched forward (0.6 percent) to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.99 million in March from 4.96 million in February, but are 1.0 percent below the 5.04 million sales pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $252,100 in March, up 5.9 percent from March 2017.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 5.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in March, but are still 3.2 percent below a year ago. The median existing condo price was $236,100 in March, which is 4.8 percent above a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

March existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 6.3 percent to an annual rate of 680,000, but are still 9.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $270,600, which is 3.3 percent above March 2017.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales increased 5.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.29 million in March, but are still 1.5 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $192,200, up 5.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South decreased 0.4 percent to an annual rate of 2.40 million in March, but are 0.4 percent above a year ago. The median price in the South was $222,400, up 5.7 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West declined 3.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.23 million in March, but are still 0.8 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $377,100, up 7.9 percent from March 2017.

The National Association of Realtors® is America's largest trade association, representing 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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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 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger data sample – about 40 percent 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 percent 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 31; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.

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