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Existing-Home Sales Ease Due to Mortgage Restrictions; Some Markets Rising

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2008

Existing-home sales slowed in April, partly because restrictive lending practices hampered home buyers. At the same time, a greater number of areas are showing sales gains from a year ago and a recent reversal in mortgage policy means the market is better positioned for a turnaround, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales - including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops - declined 1.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate 1 of 4.89 million units in April from an upwardly revised pace of 4.94 million in March, and are 17.5 percent below the 5.93 million-unit level in April 2007.

NAR President Richard F. Gaylord, a broker with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif., said the good news is that mortgage restrictions have just been eased. "In the past week, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae announced that they were eliminating their "˜declining market' policies, effective June 1," he said. "This means consumers across the country will have access to safe, affordable financing with downpayments of only 5 percent on most mortgages, with 100 percent financing available on some loan products, and we could see an upturn in home sales this summer."

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said eliminating restrictive policies should be a big help to home buyers. "I would encourage buyers who were disappointed by poor mortgage options to take another look at the market because the lending changes are significant," he said. "Also, a recent notable drop in interest rates on conforming jumbo loans will help consumers in high-cost markets like California and New York."

The unusual mix of market conditions around the country continues, but areas showing healthy price gains include Greenville, S.C., and Springfield, Mo., both with solid local economies. "On the other hand, some markets like San Diego, Calif., and Fort Myers, Fla., are experiencing rising sales after sudden double-digit drops in local home prices, so lower prices and low interest rates are starting to generate results," Yun said.

The national median existing-home price2 for all housing types was $202,300 in April, which is 8.0 percent below a year ago when the median was $219,900. Because the slowdown in sales from a year ago is greatest in high-cost areas, there is a downward distortion to the national median with relatively more sales in low- and moderate-priced markets.

Total housing inventory at the end of April rose 10.5 percent to 4.55 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 11.2-month supply3 at the current sales pace, up from a 10.0-month supply in March.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 5.92 percent in April from 5.97 percent in March; the rate was 6.18 percent in April 2007.

Single-family home sales slipped 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.34 million in April from 4.36 million in March, and are 16.1 percent below the 5.17 million-unit level recorded one year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $200,700 in April, down 8.5 percent from April 2007.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 5.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 550,000 units in April from 580,000 in March, and are 27.9 percent below the 763,000-unit pace in April 2007. The median existing condo price4 was $214,900 in April, which is 3.7 percent below a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the West rose 6.4 percent in April to a level of 1.00 million but are 15.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $285,700, which is 16.7 percent lower than April 2007.

In the South, existing-home sales were unchanged from March at an annual rate of 1.92 million in April, but are 18.6 percent below April 2007. The median price in the South was $170,800, down 5.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 4.4 percent to an annual pace of 870,000 in April, and are 14.7 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $262,000, which is 7.7 percent below April 2007.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales were at an annual rate of 1.10 million in April, which is 6.0 below March and 19.7 percent lower than April 2007. The median price in the Midwest was $159,100, down 2.9 percent from April 2007.

The National Association of Realtors®, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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1The 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.

Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings. This differs 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 generally account for 85 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample - nearly 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month - and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

2The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the 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 geographic composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if more data is received than was originally reported.

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. Condos were tracked quarterly prior to 1999 when single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases (e.g., condos were 9.5 percent of transactions in 1998, 8.5 percent in 1990 and only 6.1 percent in 1982).

4Because there is a concentration of condos in high-cost metro areas, the national median condo price can be higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes. View data tables.

Existing-home sales for May will be released June 26, and the next Forecast/Pending Home Sales Index is scheduled for June 9.

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© Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® | Headquarters: 430 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

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