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March Sales of Existing Homes Slip Again

Paul Ausick

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of existing home sales in March fell 0.2% to 4.58 million from a total of 4.6 million in February. Sales are also down 7.5% year-over-year for the month. March 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 4.6 million, according to a survey of economists polled by Bloomberg.

Housing inventory rose 4.7% in March, to 1.99 million homes, which is equal to a supply of 5.2 months, higher than the five-month supply in February. Unsold inventory is up 3.1% compared with March 2013, when there was a supply of 4.7 months.

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According to the NAR, the national median existing home price in January was $198,500, up 7.9% compared with March 2013.

NAR's chief economist said:

There really should be stronger levels of home sales given our population growth. In contrast, price growth is rising faster than historical norms because of inventory shortages. With ongoing job creation and some weather delayed shopping activity, home sales should pick up, especially if inventory continues to improve and mortgage interest rates rise only modestly.

Sales of single-family homes remained unchanged from February at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.04 million, down from 4.05 million in January and 7.3% below sales in March a year ago. Sales of multifamily homes fell 1.8% month-over-month to an annual rate of 550,000.

Foreclosed and short sales accounted for 14% of March sales. Foreclosures sold at an average 18% discount to the March median price, while short sales sold at a discount of 12%.

Existing, non-distressed homes were on the market for an average of 53 days, while foreclosed homes were on the market for an average of 55 days and short sales took a median of 112 days to sell.

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

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