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January Sales of Existing Homes at 18-Month Low

Paul Ausick

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of existing home sales in January fell 5.1% to 4.62 million from a total of 4.87 million in December. Sales are also down 5.1% year-over-year for the month. January's activity was the lowest since July 2012, when the seasonally adjusted annual rate was 4.59 million.

The consensus estimate called for sales to reach 4.65 million, according to a survey of economists at Bloomberg.

Housing inventory rose 2.2% in January to 1.9 million homes, which is equal to a supply of 4.9 months, higher than the 4.6-month supply in December. Unsold inventory is up 7.3% compared with January 2013, when there was a supply of 4.4 months.

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According to the NAR, the national median existing home price in January was $188,900, up 10.7% compared with January 2013.

NAR's chief economist said:

Disruptive and prolonged winter weather patterns across the country are impacting a wide range of economic activity, and housing is no exception. Some housing activity will be delayed until spring. At the same time, we can't ignore the ongoing headwinds of tight credit, limited inventory, higher prices and higher mortgage interest rates.

Sales of single-family homes fell 5.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.05 million, down from 4.3 million in December and 6% below sales in January a year ago. Sales of multifamily homes were unchanged month-over-month, at an annual rate of 570,000.

Foreclosed and short sales accounted for 15% of January sales. Foreclosures sold at an average 16% discount to the January median price, while short sales sold at a discount of 13%.

Existing, non-distressed homes were on the market for an average of 66 days, while foreclosed homes were on the market for an average of 58 days and short sales took a median of 150 days to sell.

The good news from the NAR's report is that housing inventory continues to rise year-over-year even though it is still low by historical standards.

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