After starting the year at the fastest pace in almost a decade, existing-home sales slid in February some 3.7%, below the 2.0% drop expected, as 5.48 million existing houses were sold last month which was marked by a paradoxe: on one hand, NAR reported that the median existing-home price in February was $228,400, up 7.7% from February 2016 and was the fastest increase since last January (8.1 percent). On the other hand, as the NAR itself admits, affordability has collapsed which together with too little inventory of homes for sale, meant that buyers and sellers were unable to meet in the middle, leading to the 3rd worst month in the past 6 years, the lowest since September 2016.
As Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said, closings retreated in February as too few properties for sale and weakening affordability conditions stifled buyers in most of the country. “Realtors are reporting stronger foot traffic from a year ago, but low supply in the affordable price range continues to be the pest that’s pushing up price growth and pressuring the budgets of prospective buyers,” he said. “Newly listed properties are being snatched up quickly so far this year and leaving behind minimal choices for buyers trying to reach the market.”
Added Yun, “A growing share of homeowners in NAR’s first quarter HOME survey said now is a good time to sell, but until an increase in listings actually occurs, home prices will continue to move hastily.”
Some other observations:
- The median existing-home price 2 for all housing types in February was $228,400, up 7.7% from February 2016 ($212,100). February’s price increase was the fastest since last January (8.1 percent) and marks the 60th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.
- Total housing inventory 3 at the end of February increased 4.2 percent to 1.75 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 6.4 percent lower than a year ago (1.87 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 21 straight months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.8-month supply at the current sales pace (3.5 months in January).
- All-cash sales were 27 percent of transactions in February (matching the highest since November 2015), up from 23 percent in January and 25 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 17 percent of homes in February, up from 15 percent in January but down from 18 percent a year ago. Seventy-one percent of investors paid in cash in February (matching highest since April 2015).
- First-time buyers were 32 percent of sales in February, which is down from 33 percent in January but up from 30 percent a year ago. NAR’s 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers — released in late 2016 4 — revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 35 percent.
- Properties typically stayed on the market for 45 days in February, down from 50 days in January and considerably more than a year ago (59 days). Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 214 days in February, while foreclosures sold in 49 days and non-distressed homes took 45 days. Forty-two percent of homes sold in February were on the market for less than a month.
- annual rate of 4.89 million in February from 5.04 million in January, and are now 5.8 percent above the 4.62 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $229,900 in February, up 7.6 percent from February 2016.
- Existing condominium and co-op sales descended 9.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 590,000 units in February, but are still 1.7 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing condo price was $216,100 in February, which is 8.2 percent above a year ago.
Some additional thoughts on the collapsing affordability as a result of rising rates, and – of course- nearly double-digit increases in home prices.
“The affordability constraints holding back renters from buying is a signal to many investors that rental demand will remain solid for the foreseeable future,” said Yun. “Investors are still making up an above average share of the market right now despite steadily rising home prices and few distressed properties on the market, and their financial wherewithal to pay in cash gives them a leg-up on the competition against first-time buyers.”
Finally, judging by the collapse in mortgage apps and rising mortgage rates, unless all cash buyers – mostly foreign money laundering oligarchs and members of the US 1% – continue to buy up existing homes without resorting to mortgages, expect a sharp drop off in existing homes in the near future.