Has housing bottomed? Existing-home prices rise but sales fall

New data on housing shows the sector is still under considerable stress. Sales of previously occupied homes dropped 1.5 percent last month. That suggests that the modest recovery underway remains choppy. (June 21)

Sales of existing homes dipped 1.5% in May from April but are up substantially from a year ago, along with property prices, said the National Assn. of Realtors.

Last month, resales slipped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.55 million from 4.62 million in April but were up 9.6% from May of 2011, according to the report.


The median price soared 7.9% to $182,600 from a year ago, marking the third year-over-year gain in a row – the first trifecta since 2006. Analysts from Credit Suisse called the firming prices – now at the highest level since June 2010 – "the silver lining" of the report.

Sales of single-family homes were 1% lower than April but 10.4% higher than last May. The price for such properties spiked 7.7% from 2011 to $182,900.

The report, which also factors in town homes, condominiums and co-ops, blamed the dip from April on tight supply of properties instead of on softening demand. The inventory of listed homes for sale is 20.4% smaller than a year ago, according to the Realtors association.

Mortgage rates are again at record lows; building permits are at more than a three-year high and single-family housing starts are increasing.

Heavily discounted foreclosures and short sales make up a substantial but shrinking portion of home buys – 25% in May from 31% a year earlier. First-time buyers, however, make up a third of the pool – a smaller portion than before.

"The recovery is occurring despite excessively tight credit conditions and higher down payment requirements, which are negating the impact of record high affordability conditions," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the trade group, in a statement.

The same trends, he said, are represented in the western part of the country, where sales are down 3.4% from April but up 3.6% from 2011. Realtors there have been on the hunt for more distressed properties because there are more buyers than homes available, Yun said.

Expensive properties have been driving sales in the region, where the median price is $233,900, up 3.6% from a year earlier.


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