The National Association of Realtors provides monthly data on home sales across the United States. This data is intended to provide insight into the state of the housing market. In recent years since the collapse of the real estate bubble, these figures have been monitored by investors and economists looking for a sign that the housing market is on the mend.
In its April 19th report, the National Association of Realtors provided mixed signals as to whether growth in the housing market was gaining traction. While the April release indicated that existing home sales had declined in March, a revision to February’s numbers indicated that the prior months sales were higher than previously reported. This means that even with the March decline, first quarter sales in 2012 were the strongest since 2007.
The slip in existing home sales in March was a small one, as home sales fell approximately 2.6 percent. This brought the numbers on sales to an annual rate of 4.48 million homes in the prior month, which is significantly higher than the 4.26 million-unit pace that was reported in March of 2011. February’s numbers were also revised upward to 4.60 million from the previously reported 4.59 million figure.
The March slip in sales occurred in a market that is showing signs of inventory tightening and home prices stabilizing or even increasing. Inventories fell to 2.37 million and the median home price for a resale rose to $164,800, which is 2.5 percent higher than it was a year ago. The National Association of Realtors also indicated that some real estate agents were reporting housing shortages in certain areas.
The number of distress sales is also on the decline. In February, 34 percent of sales were distress sales, but the new report indicates only 29 percent of homes sold in March were owned by homeowners in trouble on their mortgages. Eighteen percent of these were foreclosures, which sold for a discount of 19 percent below market price, and 11 percent were short sales, which sold for a discount of approximately 16 percent.
Overall, the positive news reported led the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Lawrence Yun, to indicate that the recovery is happening- just not at a breakout pace. NAR President Moe Veissi also indicated that buyer traffic was up and that stabilizing home prices – along with record low mortgage rates- are increasing buyer confidence and prompting home purchases.