Existing U.S. Home Sales Fell in August

Amid the flurry of banking bailout talks and stock market worries, the National Association of Realtors released a report Wednesday showing a decrease in existing home sales nationally last month.

The Associated found that sales of previously owned homes, including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, dropped a seasonally adjusted 2.2 percent to an annual rate of 4.91 million units from a rate of 5.02 million in July. August figures are also down 10.7 percent from the same time last year.

The national median price for existing homes also fell last month to $203,100, a 9.5 percent slide from August 2007 when the median price was $224,400.

“The median home price reflects more transactions related to subprime loans,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “Fewer than 10 percent of homeowners have subprime loans, but these mortgages are accounting for a disproportionately high share of sales in the current market. On the other hand, areas that have had sharp price cuts are seeing a turnaround in sales, which are rising very fast now in parts of California, Florida and Nevada.”

Yet home sales were still down in the West, falling 5.3 percent in August from July.“The highest concentration of foreclosures is in the West, which is weighing down the median price because many buyers are taking advantage of deeply discounted prices,” Yun said.

The Northeast saw a 6.6 percent decline in sales during the past month, while the Midwest and South experienced gains of 0.9 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively.

The main reason for sagging sales, according to NAR President Richard F. Gaylord, was the lack of mortgage financing. “The difficulty in obtaining a mortgage increased over past couple months, making it more challenging for creditworthy borrowers to find financing,” he said. “Our hope is that overly tight lending criteria can be loosened with reasonable standards and credit so that sales activity can catch up with demand. Interest rates have already declined, but there is a serious question as to whether a cash infusion by the U.S. Treasury into Wall Street would help consumers by improving mortgage funding.

“We urge Congress to restore access to sound mortgage credit so people have the ability to make and keep a long-term investment in the American dream of homeownership. Congress needs to take care of Main Street and not just bail out Wall Street.”

One bright spot in the NAR report was that inventory dropped by 7.0 percent during the same time to 4.26 million existing homes, representing some hope that the market is slowly balancing out.

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