Low Inventory, Market Volatility Hold Back Existing-Home Sales

Sales of existing U.S. homes declined in October, stymied by a lack of affordable inventory as well as consumer concern about the economy, according to the National Association of Realtors. On the bright side, mortgage rates remained low and distressed sales made up the lowest share over seven years.
Total existing-home sales fell 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.36 million in October, down 5.55 million in September. Compared with one year ago, sales are up however, with a 3.9 percent gain from 5.16 million in October 2014.

The number of homes for sale dropped 2.3 percent from September to 2.14 million existing properties, and even fell 4.5 percent from the year before. At the current sales pace there is 4.8-month supply of homes. Realtors consider the market balanced between buyers and sellers when there is a 6-month supply.

“New and existing-home supply has struggled to improve so far this fall, leading to few choices for buyers and no easement of the ongoing affordability concerns still prevalent in some markets,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “Furthermore, the mixed signals of slowing economic growth and volatility in the financial markets slightly tempered demand and contributed to the decreasing pace of sales.”

Yun was hopeful for the future though. “As long as solid job creation continues, a gradual easing of credit standards even with moderately higher mortgage rates should support steady demand and sales continuing to rise above a year ago,” he said.

During the month, long-term mortgage interest rates fell, keeping mortgage loans affordable for those who could qualify. The average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 3.80 percent in October from 3.89 percent the month before.

The median home price rose to $219,600, up 5.8 percent from the previous year, and the 44th straight month of year-over-year increases.

One of the highlights of the sales report was the decline in the share of distressed properties – short sales and foreclosures – fell to its lowest level since the NAR started tracking in October 2008. Distressed sales fell to just 6 percent, down from 9 percent in October 2014, a sign of renewed market health as fewer and fewer homeowners are falling into foreclosure and lenders have worked through a majority of their distressed inventory.

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