Existing home sales decreased in March but are still above year-ago levels


A sold sticker is displayed on a for sale sign outside of a home in Garner, NC. (Jim R. Bounds/BLOOMBERG)

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 2.6 percent from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.48 million in March. That figure is 5.2 percent above the 4.26 million-unit pace in March 2011. March marked the ninth consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases, which NAR called a sign of a recovering house market.

“Existing-home sales are moving up and down in a fairly narrow range that is well above the level of activity during the first half of last year,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. “With job growth, low interest rates, bargain home prices and an improving economy, the pent-up demand is coming to market and we expect housing to be notably better this year.”

Inventory tightened slightly last month, as well. Total housing inventory at the end of March declined 1.3 percent to 2.37 million existing homes available for sale.

“Listed inventory is 21.8 percent below a year ago and well below the record of 4.04 million in July 2007,” NAR said in a statement. Yun points out that some markets are actually running low on homes.

“We were expecting a seasonal increase in home listings, but a lack of inventory has suddenly become an issue in several markets with not enough homes for sale in relation to buyer interest,” Yun said.

As foreclosures and short sales are decreasing, house prices are also rising. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $163,800 in March, up 2.5 percent from March 2011. Distressed homes — foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts — accounted for 29 percent of March sales (18 percent were foreclosures and 11 percent were short sales), compared with 34 percent in February and 40 percent in March 2011.

Existing home sales January

Existing home sales February

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