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Housing market still weak: Fewer existing homes bought in March

Warm weather doesn’t always bring good news. An unusually toasty winter may have poached sales of previously owned homes from March, denying it the expected springtime boost.

Consumers bought 2.6% fewer existing homes – pushing the seasonally adjusted annual rate down to 4.48 million from February’s 4.6 million, according to the National Assn. of Realtors.

In the West, sales were down 7.4% from February and 0.9% from last March. The median price, now $198,300, is 1.6% higher than that of a year ago.

There were still signs of health: A third of the buyers were first-timers. Fewer of the properties were deeply discounted foreclosures – 29% of the total compared with 34% in February. The median price for previously owned homes was $163,800 – up 2.5% from that of a year earlier.

The supply of available homes shrank 1.3%, and prices are showing signs of stabilizing. And March’s existing home sales are 5.2% stronger than they were at the same point last year, according to the realtors group.

“The recovery is happening, though not at a breakout pace,” said Lawrence Yun, the association’s chief economist, in a statement.

But concerns still remain that the strong numbers from earlier this year, which resulted in the best winter for existing home sales in five years, may not lead to sustained improvement but, instead, weakness.

Mortgage rates are inching higher, according to a Freddie Mac survey Thursday. Home sales in California fell in March, the California Assn. of Realtors said earlier this week.

There’s still room for optimism, however. Rising consumer confidence suggests that Americans may feel more ready to buy property. Builders filed more permits to construct new homes than at any other point in the last 3.5 years.

RELATED:

Freddie Mac: Mortgage rates inch higher

California home sales drop, but prices climb in March

Southern California home-price decline slows in March

U.S. building permits reach 3½-year high; housing starts slow

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