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August Existing-Home Sales Rise Despite Headwinds, Up Strongly from a Year Ago

Existing-home sales increased in August, even with ongoing tight credit and appraisal problems, along with regional disruptions created by Hurricane Irene, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Monthly gains were seen in all regions.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 7.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.03 million in August from an upwardly revised 4.67 million in July, and are 18.6 percent higher than the 4.24 million unit level in August 2010.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said there are some positive market fundamentals. “Some of the improvement in August may result from sales that were delayed in preceding months, but favorable affordability conditions and rising rents are underlying motivations,” he said. “Investors were more active in absorbing foreclosed properties. In additional to bargain hunting, some investors are in the market to hedge against higher inflation.”

Investors2 accounted for 22 percent of purchase activity in August, up from 18 percent in July and 21 percent in August 2010. First-time buyers purchased 32 percent of homes in August, unchanged from July; they were 31 percent in August 2010.

All-cash sales accounted for 29 percent of transactions in August, unchanged from July; they were 28 percent in August 2010; investors account for the bulk of cash purchases.

“We had some disruptions from Hurricane Irene in the closing weekend of August, when many sales normally are finalized, along the Eastern seaboard and in New England,” Yun said. “As a result, the Northeast saw the smallest sales gain in August, and some general impact is expected in September with widespread flooding from Tropical Storm Lee. Aberrations in housing data are possible over the next couple months as markets recover from disrupted closings and storm damage.”

Yun said an extremely important issue currently is the renewal and availability of the National Flood Insurance Program, scheduled to expire at the end of this month. “About one out of 10 homes in this country need flood insurance to get a mortgage, and we would see significant negative market impacts without it,” he said.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.27 percent in August, down from 4.55 percent in July; the rate was 4.43 percent in August 2010. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed rate fell to a record low 4.09 percent.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said the market is remarkably affordable for people with secure jobs, good credit and long-term plans. “All year, the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income has been hovering at historic highs, meaning the best housing affordability conditions in a generation,” he said.

“The biggest factors keeping home sales from a healthy recovery are mortgages being denied to creditworthy buyers, and appraised valuations below the negotiated price. Buyers may be able to find more favorable credit terms with community and small regional banks, and Realtors® can often give buyers advice to help them overcome some of the financing obstacles,” Phipps said.

Contract failures – cancellations caused largely by declined mortgage applications or failures in loan underwriting from appraised values coming in below the negotiated price – were reported by 18 percent of NAR members in August, up from 16 percent July and 9 percent in August 2010.

The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $168,300 in August, which is 5.1 percent below August 2010. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales typically sold at deep discounts – accounted for 31 percent of sales in August, compared with 29 percent in July and 34 percent in August 2010.

Total housing inventory at the end of August fell 3.0 percent to 3.58 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.5-month supply4 at the current sales pace, down from a 9.5-month supply in July.

Single-family home sales rose 8.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million in August from 4.12 million in July, and are 20.2 percent above the 3.72 million pace in August 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $168,400 in August, which is 5.4 percent below a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 1.8 percent a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 in August from 550,000 in July, and are 8.3 percent higher than the 517,000-unit level one year ago. The median existing condo price5 was $167,500 in August, down 3.3 percent from August 2010.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 2.7 percent to an annual pace of 770,000 in August and are 10.0 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $244,100, which is 5.1 percent below August 2010.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 3.8 percent in August to a level of 1.09 million and are 26.7 percent above August 2010. The median price in the Midwest was $141,700, down 3.5 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 5.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.94 million in August and are 16.9 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the South was $151,000, which is 0.8 percent below August 2010.

Existing-home sales in the West jumped 18.3 percent to an annual pace of 1.23 million in August and are 20.6 percent higher than August 2010. The median price in the West was $189,400, down 13.0 percent from a year ago.

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.

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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 at the beginning of this year in consultation with government agencies, outside housing economists and academic experts; there will be no change to median prices. Although there will be a downward revision to sales volume, there will be no notable change to previous characterizations of the market in terms of sales trends, monthly percentage changes, etc.

In the past NAR has 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’ve had to develop a new approach with an independent source to improve methodology and to permit more frequent revisions.

Preliminary data based on the new benchmark is undergoing review by professional economists. This process is expected to take some time before finalized revisions can be published to address any issues that may surface in the review process and to update monthly seasonal adjustment factors; NAR is committed to providing accurate, reliable data. Publication of the revisions is expected in several months, and we will provide a notice several weeks in advance of the publication date.

2 Investors, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions, contract failures and distressed sales are from a monthly survey for the Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.

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 often is higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.

The Pending Home Sales Index for August will be released September 29, and existing-home sales for September is scheduled for October 20; 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.

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.

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