Existing-Home Sales at 8-Year High

The Mortgage Corner

It had to happen.  Why did June existing-home sales jump to an 8-year high? Fewer foreclosures is the short answer, hence more available for sale at market prices. But soaring consumer optimism due to an even better jobs market has to be the driving force causing families to build their nests.

Also, prices are rising to multi-year highs due to supply scarcities. And then there are the demographics, as the new generation is pushing older generations to move up or down, with even baby boomers wanting more retirement living.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 3.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million in June from a downwardly revised 5.32 million in May. Sales are now at their highest pace since February 2007 (5.79 million), have increased year-over-year for nine consecutive months and are 9.6 percent above a year ago (5.01 million).

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Graph: Calculated Risk

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says backed by June’s solid gain in closings, this year’s spring buying season has been the strongest since the downturn. “Buyers have come back in force, leading to the strongest past two months in sales since early 2007,” he said. “This wave of demand is being fueled by a year-plus of steady job growth and an improving economy that’s giving more households the financial wherewithal and incentive to buy.”

Inventories have dropped to 5 months, which is driving up prices. The median price, up 3.3 percent in the month to $236,400, is already a record. Part of the rise in prices is tied to a lack of distressed sales, at only 8 percent of June’s total which is a record low, according to Econoday.

Adds Yun, “June sales were also likely propelled by the spring’s initial phase of rising mortgage rates, which usually prods some prospective buyers to buy now rather than wait until later when borrowing costs could be higher.”

And that may be an additional factor. Interest rates, though still low, have risen approximately ¼ percent since their most recent lows, with 30-year fixed conforming rates now 3.75 percent for a 1 point origination fee in California.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of June inched 0.9 percent to 2.30 million existing homes available for sale, and is 0.4 percent higher than a year ago (2.29 million). Unsold inventory is at a 5.0-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 5.1 months in May.

“Limited inventory amidst strong demand continues to push home prices higher, leading to declining affordability for prospective buyers,” said Yun. “Local officials in recent years have rightly authorized permits for new apartment construction, but more needs to be done for condominiums and single-family homes.”

The percent share of first-time buyers fell to 30 percent in June from 32 percent in May, but remained at or above 30 percent for the fourth consecutive month. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 28 percent of all buyers.

This is why housing starts surged nearly 10 percent last month to an annual rate of 1.17 million, just a touch below a post- recession high. Builders were especially active in the Northeast and South that suffered so much from last winter. We need more housing, in other words, as jobs and families continue to grow.

Harlan Green © 2015

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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