Inventories continue to linger below seasonal norms, raising the prospect that low supplies of homes for sale will again plague housing markets next spring, inflating prices, reducing choices for buyers and depressing sales.
January reports from both Realtor.com and existing homes series from the National Association of Realtors show that sales are down to record lows and inventory shortages continued to live prices in much of the nation.
Total existing-home sales dropped 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million in January from 4.87 million in December, and are also 5.1 percent below the 4.87 million-unit pace in January 2013. Last month’s level of activity was the slowest since July 2012, when it stood at 4.59 million.
The median existing-home price for all housing types in January was $188,900, up 10.7 percent from January 2013. Distressed homes3 – foreclosures and short sales — accounted for 15 percent of January sales, compared with 14 percent in December and 24 percent in January 2013.
Total housing inventory at the end of January rose 2.2 percent to 1.90 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.9-month supply4 at the current sales pace, up from 4.6 months in December. Unsold inventory is 7.3 percent above a year ago, when there was a 4.4-month supply. A supply of 6.0 to 6.5 months represents a rough balance between buyers and sellers.
Realtor.com’s inventories also fell slightly in January. At 1,672,799 listings they remain almost as low as they were last year, when abnormally low inventory levels at the outset of the spring buying season contributed to the greatest annual price increase in six years.
Price gains from 2013, even in the hottest markets in the nation, have been sustained as we enter the depth of the winter months,. Forty-four of the 143 markets tracked by realtor.com—nearly one third? registered year over year median price increases in the double digits.
Double digit price increases are generating inventory increases in only 25 of the nation’s 44 hottest markets. Other hot markets, like Detroit, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and Boulder are seeing their inventories fall 10 percent more below where they were a year ago. The recovery, however has reached the vast majority of markets in the nation. Median list prices in all but 19 of realtor.com’s 143 markets are higher than they were a year ago.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said unusual weather is playing a role. “Disruptive and prolonged winter weather patterns across the country are impacting a wide range of economic activity, and housing is no exception,” he said. “Some housing activity will be delayed until spring. At the same time, we can’t ignore the ongoing headwinds of tight credit, limited inventory, higher prices and higher mortgage interest rates. These issues will hinder home sales activity until the positive factors of job growth and new supply from higher housing starts begin to make an impact.”
The median time on market for all homes was 67 days in January, down from 72 days in December and 71 days on market in December 2013. Short sales were on the market for a median of 150 days in January, while foreclosures typically sold in 58 days and non-distressed homes took 66 days. Thirty-one percent of homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month.
First-time buyers accounted for 26 percent of purchases in January, down from 27 percent in December and 30 percent in January 2013. This is the lowest market share for first-time buyers since NAR began monthly measurement in October 2008; normally, they should be closer to 40 percent.
All-cash sales comprised 33 percent of transactions in January, up from 32 percent in December and 28 percent in January 2013. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 20 percent of homes in January, compared with 21 percent in December and 19 percent in January 2013. Seven out of 10 investors paid cash in January.
Single-family home sales fell 5.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.05 million in January from 4.30 million in December, and are 6.0 percent below the 4.31 million-unit pace in January 2013. The median existing single-family home price was $188,900 in January, up 10.4 percent from a year ago.
Existing condominium and co-op sales were unchanged at an annual rate of 570,000 units in January, and are 1.8 percent above a year ago. The median existing condo price was $188,700 in January, which is 13.0 percent above January 2013.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 3.1 percent to an annual rate of 620,000 in January, and are also 3.1 percent below January 2013. The median price in the Northeast was $241,100, up 6.6 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest dropped 7.1 percent in January to a pace of 1.04 million, and are 8.8 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $140,300, which is 7.6 percent higher than January 2013.
In the South, existing-home sales declined 3.5 percent to an annual level of 1.95 million in January, but are 1.6 percent higher than January 2013. The median price in the South was $161,500, up 9.4 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West dropped 7.3 percent to a pace of 1.01 million in January, and are 13.7 percent below a year ago. Sales in the West are attenuated by tight inventory in many areas, pushing the median price to $273,500, up 14.6 percent from January 2013.