Existing U.S. home sales made a small gain in February, according to the National Association of Realtors, but were held back by limited inventory even as mortgage interest rates rose slightly.
Total sales of existing homes rose 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million in February, up from 4.82 million in January. Compared with the previous year, sales are up 4.7 percent.
At the same time, the median existing home price rose 7.5 percent from February 2014 to $202,600. Prices have now risen on a year-over-year basis for 36 straight months.
“Insufficient supply appears to be hampering prospective buyers in several areas of the country and is hiking prices to near unsuitable levels,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “Stronger price growth is a boon for homeowners looking to build additional equity, but it continues to be an obstacle for current buyers looking to close before rates rise.”
Inventory grew just 1.6 percent in February to 1.89 million existing homes for sale, a 0.5 percent decline from one year ago. At the current sales pace, there is a 4.6-month supply of homes, below what the 6-month mark the NAR considers a balanced market between buyers and sellers.
Mortgage interest rates could play into the coming months of home sales. The average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose to 3.71 percent in February, up from 3.67 percent in January. Yun cautioned, “with all indications pointing to a rate increase from the Federal Reserve this year – perhaps as early as this summer – affordability concerns could heighten as home prices and rents both continue to exceed wages.”