WASHINGTON – Existing-home sales subsided in most of the country in December, but 2017 as a whole edged up 1.1 percent and ended up being the best year for sales in 11 years, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
Total existing-home sales¹, https://www.nar.realtor/existing-home-sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 1.1 percent in 2017 to a 5.51 million sales pace and surpassed 2016 (5.45 million) as the highest since 2006 (6.48 million).
In December, existing-home sales slipped 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million from a downwardly revised 5.78 million in November. After last month’s decline, sales are still 1.1 percent above a year ago.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing market performed remarkably well for the U.S. economy in 2017, with substantial wealth gains for homeowners and historically low distressed property sales. “Existing sales concluded the year on a softer note, but they were guided higher these last 12 months by a multi-year streak of exceptional job growth, which ignited buyer demand,” said Yun. “At the same time, market conditions were far from perfect. New listings struggled to keep up with what was sold very quickly, and buying became less affordable in a large swath of the country. These two factors ultimately muted what should have been a stronger sales pace.”
Added Yun, “Closings scaled back in most areas last month for this same reason. Affordability pressures persisted, and the pool of interested buyers at the end of the year significantly outweighed what was available for sale.”
The median existing-home price² for all housing types in December was $246,800, up 5.8 percent from December 2016 ($233,300). December’s price increase marks the 70th straight month of year-over-year gains.
Total housing inventory³ at the end of December dropped 11.4 percent to 1.48 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 10.3 percent lower than a year ago (1.65 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 31 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.2-month supply at the current sales pace, which is down from 3.6 months a year ago and is the lowest level since NAR began tracking in 1999.
“The lack of supply over the past year has been eye-opening and is why, even with strong job creation pushing wages higher, home price gains – at 5.8 percent nationally in 2017 – doubled the pace of income growth and were even swifter in several markets,” said Yun.
First-time buyers were 32 percent of sales in December, which is up from 29 percent in November and unchanged from a year ago. NAR’s 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 20174 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 34 percent.
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage inched higher for the third straight month to 3.95 percent in December from 3.92 percent in November. The average commitment rate for all of 2017 was 3.99 percent.
“Rising wages and the expanding economy should lay the foundation for 2018 being the turning point towards an uptick in sales to first-time buyers,” said Yun. “However, if inventory conditions fail to improve, higher mortgage rates and prices will further eat into affordability and prevent many renters from becoming homeowners.”
Properties typically stayed on the market for 40 days in December, which is unchanged from November and down from a year ago (52 days). Forty-four percent of homes sold in December were on the market for less than a month.
Realtor.com®’s Market Hotness Index, measuring time-on-the-market data and listings views per property, revealed that the hottest metro areas in December were San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.; Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Stockton-Lodi, Calif.
NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty, says improving the new tax law is a top priority for Realtors® in 2018. “Especially in high-cost, high-taxed markets, there’s still big concern that the overall structure of the final bill diminishes the tax benefits of homeownership in a way that would adversely affect home values and sales over time,” she said. “As the housing market adjusts to the new law, Realtors® will be listening to their clients and communicating to lawmakers ways to ensure owning a home is truly incentivized in the tax code.”
All-cash sales were 20 percent of transactions in December, which is down from 22 percent in November and 21 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 16 percent of homes in December, up from 14 percent both last month and a year ago. For the year, all-cash sales averaged 21 percent of sales (23 percent in 2016), and investor sales were at 15 percent (14 percent in 2016).
Distressed sales5 – foreclosures and short sales – were 5 percent of sales in December, up from 4 percent in November but down from 7 percent a year ago. Four percent of December sales were foreclosures and 1 percent were short sales.
Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales
Single-family home sales declined 2.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.96 million in December from 5.09 million in November, but are still 1.0 percent above the 4.91 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $248,100 in December, up 5.8 percent from December 2016.
Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 11.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in December, but are still 1.7 percent above a year ago. The median existing condo price was $236,500 in December, which is 6.4 percent above a year ago.
December existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 7.5 percent to an annual rate of 740,000, and are now 2.6 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $261,400, which is 3.0 percent above December 2016.
In the Midwest, existing-home sales dipped 6.3 percent to an annual rate of 1.33 million in December, but are still 1.5 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $191,400, up 7.8 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the South decreased 1.7 percent to an annual rate of 2.30 million in December, but are still 3.1 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the South was $221,200, up 5.8 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West declined 1.6 percent to an annual rate of 1.20 million in December, and are now 0.8 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $367,400, up 7.3 percent from December 2016.
The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.
1Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from Multiple Listing Services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. NAR rebenchmarks home sales periodically using other sources to assess overall home sales trends, including sales not reported by MLSs.
Existing-home sales, based on closings, differ from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which account for more than 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger data sample – about 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.
The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.
Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.
2The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical of market conditions than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if additional data is received.
The national median condo/co-op price often is higher than the median single-family home price because condos are concentrated in higher-cost housing markets. However, in a given area, single-family homes typically sell for more than condos as seen in NAR’s quarterly metro area price reports.
3Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions and condos were measured only on a quarterly basis).
4Survey results represent owner-occupants and differ from separately reported monthly findings from NAR’s Realtors®Confidence Index, which include all types of buyers. Investors are under-represented in the annual study because survey questionnaires are mailed to the addresses of the property purchased and generally are not returned by absentee owners. Results include both new and existing homes.
5Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions and investors are from a monthly survey for the NAR’s Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at nar.realtor.