WASHINGTON (May 21, 2015) — Despite properties typically selling faster than at any time since July 2013, existing–home sales slowed in April but remained above an annual sales pace of five million for the second straight month, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All major regions except for the Midwest experienced sales declines in April.
Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single–family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co–ops, declined 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million in April from an upwardly revised 5.21 million in March. Despite the monthly decline, sales have increased year–over–year for seven consecutive months and are still 6.1 percent above a year ago.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sales in April failed to keep pace with the robust gain seen in March. “April’s setback is the result of lagging supply relative to demand and the upward pressure it’s putting on prices,” he said. “However, the overall data and feedback we’re hearing from Realtors® continues to point to elevated levels of buying interest compared to a year ago. With low interest rates and job growth, more buyers will be encouraged to enter the market unless prices accelerate even higher in relation to incomes.”
Total housing inventory2 at the end of April increased 10.0 percent to 2.21 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 0.9 percent below a year ago (2.23 million). Unsold inventory is at a 5.3–month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.6 months in March.
The median existing–home price3 for all housing types in April was $219,400, which is 8.9 percent above April 2014. This marks the 38th consecutive month of year–over–year price gains and is the largest since January 2014 (10.1 percent).
With demand far exceeding supply, properties sold in April faster (39 days) than at any time since July 2013 (42 days) and the second shortest time (37 days in June 2013) since NAR began tracking in May 2011. Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 180 days in April, while foreclosures sold in 50 days and non–distressed homes took 38 days. Nearly half (46 percent) of homes sold in April were on the market for less than a month.
“Housing inventory declined from last year and supply in many markets is very tight, which in turn is leading to bidding wars, faster price growth and properties selling at a quicker pace,” says Yun. “To put it in perspective, roughly 40 percent of properties sold last month went at or above asking price, the highest since NAR began tracking this monthly data in December 2012.”
The percent share of first–time buyers remained at 30 percent in April for the second consecutive month. First–time buyers represented 29 percent of all buyers in April 2014.
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30–year, conventional, fixed–rate mortgage remained below 4.00 percent for the fifth straight month, falling in April to 3.67 percent from 3.77 percent in March.
NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark., cautions that closings for some home sales could drag after August 1 and into the fall as lenders transition to the new closing procedures and documentation required by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act and Truth in Lending Act, or RESPA–TILA, integrated disclosure rule. “There likely will be bumps in the closing process while all parties get used to the new requirements,” he said. “We hope that the move away from the HUD–1 is smooth, but even if only 10 percent of transactions experience closing issues, that’s as many as 40,000 transactions a month.”
Polychron — testifying before Congress on May 14 — advocated for a grace period through the end of 2015, which would delay enforcement of the new rules to the slower winter months.
All–cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in April, unchanged from March and down considerably from a year ago (32 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in April, unchanged from last month and down from 18 percent in April 2014. Seventy–one percent of investors paid cash in April.
Distressed sales4 — foreclosures and short sales — were 10 percent of sales in April, unchanged from March and below the 15 percent share a year ago. Seven percent of April sales were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 20 percent below market value in April (16 percent in March), while short sales were also discounted 14 percent (16 percent in March)