April 22nd, 2010 11:37 AM by Scott Bray
Buyers responding to the homebuyer tax credit and favorable affordability conditions boosted existing-home sales in March, marking the beginning of an expected spring surge, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
Existing home sales which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 6.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million units in March from 5.01 million in February, and are 16.1 percent above the 4.61 million-unit level in March 2009.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said it is encouraging to see a broad home sales recovery in nearly every part of the country, with two important underlying trends. “Sales have been above year-ago levels for nine straight months, and inventory has trended down from year-ago levels for 20 months running,” he said. “The home buyer tax credit has been a resounding success as these underlying trends point to a broad stabilization in home prices. This is preserving perhaps $1 trillion in largely middle class housing wealth that may have been wiped out without the housing stimulus measure.”
Total housing inventory at the end of March rose 1.5 percent to 3.58 million existing homes available for sale. Raw unsold inventory is 1.8 percent below a year ago, and is 21.7 percent below the record of 4.58 million in July 2008.
“Foreclosures have been feeding into the inventory pipeline at a fairly steady pace and are being absorbed manageably,” Yun said. “In fact, foreclosures are selling quickly, especially in the lower price ranges that are attractive to first-time home buyers.”
First-time buyers purchased 44 percent of homes in March, up from 42 percent in February. Investors accounted for 19 percent of transactions in March, unchanged from February; the remaining sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales remain elevated at 27 percent in March, the same as in February.
The national median existing-home price4 for all housing types was $170,700 in March, up 0.4 percent from March 2009. Distressed homes, typically sold at a 15 percent discount, accounted for 35 percent of sales last month – unchanged from February.
“With home values stabilizing, a revival in home buying confidence will likely help the housing market get back on its feet even as the tax credit impact disappears,” Yun said.
In the South, existing-home sales increased 7.1 percent to an annual level of 1.97 million in March and are 13.9 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the South was $154,800, up 5.2 percent from March 2009.