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February Existing-Home Sales Decline following Sustained Gains

WASHINGTON (March 21, 2011) - Existing-home sales fell in February following three straight monthly increases, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. 

Existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, dropped 9.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million in February from an upwardly revised 5.40 million in January, and are 2.8 percent below the 5.02 million pace in February 2010.

Lawrence Yun NAR chief economist, expects an uneven recovery.  "Housing affordability conditions have been at record levels and the economy has been improving, but home sales are being constrained by the twin problems of unnecessarily tight credit, and a measurable level of contract cancellations from some appraisals not supporting prices negotiated between buyers and sellers," he said.  "This tug and pull is causing a gradual but uneven recovery.  Existing-home sales remain 26.4 percent above the cyclical low last July."

A parallel NAR practitioner survey2 shows first-time buyers purchased 34 percent of homes in February, up from 29 percent in January; they were 42 percent in February 2010.

All-cash sales were a record 33 percent in February, up from 32 percent in January; they were 27 percent in February 2010.  Investors accounted for 19 percent of sales activity in February, down from 23 percent in January; they were 19 percent in February 2010.  The balance of sales were to repeat buyers. 

The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $156,100 in February, which is 5.2 percent below February 2010.  Distressed homes - sold at discount - accounted for a 39 percent market share in February, up from 37 percent in January and 35 percent in February 2010.  "The decline in price corresponds to the record level of all-cash purchases where buyers - largely investors - are snapping up homes at bargain prices," Yun explained.  "We'd be seeing greater numbers of traditional home buyers if mortgage credit conditions return to normal."

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said buyers should look into loan availability as soon as they decide they want to buy.  "Despite very affordable mortgage interest rates, credit remains a challenge - buyers should check their personal credit, and mortgage availability in their area," he said.

"REALTORS® are an excellent resource to learn about all of the marketplace factors, but in this tight credit environment it's important to learn up front what a lender might be willing to offer as well as specific programs that might be available in your location," Phipps said.

Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 3.5 percent to 3.49 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.6-month supply4 at the current sales pace, up from a 7.5-month supply in January.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.95 percent in February from 4.76 percent in January; the rate was 4.99 percent in February 2010.

Single-family home sales fell 9.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.25 million in February from 4.70 million in January, and are 2.7 percent below the 4.37 million pace in February 2010.  The median existing single-family home price was $157,000 in February, which is 4.2 percent below a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales dropped 10.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 630,000 in February from 700,000 in January, and are 3.1 percent lower than the 650,000-unit level one year ago.  The median existing condo price5 was $150,400 in February, down 11.1 percent from February 2010.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 7.2 percent to an annual pace of 770,000 in February and are 8.3 percent below February 2010.  The median price in the Northeast was $230,200, down 9.5 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest dropped 12.2 percent in February to a level of 1.01 million and are 9.0 percent lower than a year ago.  The median price in the Midwest was $122,000, which is 5.4 percent below February 2010. 

In the South, existing-home sales fell 10.2 percent to an annual pace of 1.84 million in February but are unchanged from February 2010.  The median price in the South was $134,600, down 3.9 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West declined 8.0 percent to an annual level of 1.26 million in February and are 2.4 percent below a year ago.  The median price in the West was $190,000, which is 5.2 percent below January 2010. 

The National Association of REALTORS®, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.


NOTE: NAR also tracks monthly comparisons of existing single-family home sales and median prices for select metropolitan statistical areas, which is posted with other tables at: www.realtor.org/research/research/ehsdata. For information on areas not included in the report, please contact the local association of REALTORS®.

1Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings. This differs 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 generally account for 85 to 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample - more than 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.

Benchmark Revisions: All major statistical data series go through periodic reviews and revisions to ensure that sampling and methodology keep up with changes in the market, such as population changes in sampled areas, to ensure accuracy. NAR began its normal process for benchmarking sales earlier this year; there will be no change to median prices. In the past we've benchmarked to the decennial Census, most recently to the 2000 Census, because it included home sales data. However, the data are no longer included in the Census, so we're looking at more frequent benchmarking using a new approach with independent sources to improve our process and modeling. As always, we are consulting with various outside housing economists, government agencies and academic experts for a consensus on the methodology; NAR is committed to providing accurate, reliable data. Publication of the revisions is expected this summer.

2Distressed sales, first-time buyers, investors, all-cash transactions and data for contract cancellations, etc., are from a survey for the REALTORS® Confidence Index, scheduled to be posted March 31.

3The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the 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 more data is received than was originally reported.

4Total 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, condos were measured quarterly while single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions).

5Because there is a concentration of condos in high-cost metro areas, the national median condo price generally is higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.

REALTOR® is a registered collective membership mark which may be used only by real estate professionals who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. Not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. All REALTORS® are members of NAR.

The Pending Home Sales Index for February will be released March 28, and the 2010 Vacation and Investment Home study will be published March 30. Existing-home sales for March is scheduled for April 20; all release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.

Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org. This and other news releases are posted in the News Media section. Statistical data in this release, other tables and surveys also may be found by clicking on Research.

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DC Office: 500 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001-2020 I 1-800-874-6500


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