Sales of new homes rose in November for the first time in five months, the Commerce Department said yesterday, as lower prices and higher wages made homes the most affordable in 13 years.
Housing analysts said they hoped this meant a long slide in sales might finally be leveling off, albeit well below year-ago levels, and they predicted the hard-hit industry could begin to recover in the spring.
Sales rose 2.8 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 506,000 new homes, the department said. That was the first gain since a 2.6 percent rise in June and followed a revised 3 percent drop in October.
Both the building and sales components of housing went into recession far ahead of other major sectors of the economy and November new-home sales were still a whopping 26 percent below the 687,000 sales rate recorded in November 1989.
But sellers grew more willing to cut prices and buyers took advantage of slightly lower mortgage interest rates to halt the five-month slide.
The Commerce Department reported that the average price of a new home in November fell to $146,500 from $153,200 in October.
Separately, the National Association of Realtors said lower prices and rising incomes in November made homes the most affordable in 13 years for the average American.
The group said families earning the median income of $35,467 a year had 115.6 percent of the money needed to qualify for a conventional home loan. That was up from 113.3 percent in October and 105.7 percent in November 1989.
The NAR said its housing affordability index -- which measures the ability of a family earning the median income to buy a home at the median price -- was the highest since December 1977, when it stood at 116.0 percent.
The national median family income was up $114 from the month before and $1,422 above year-ago levels.
Dave Seiders, senior economist with the National Association of Home Builders, said builders, anxious to sell completed homes, now commonly offer incentives -- picking up some closing costs or throwing in luxury features for free.
This may have drawn buyers, but Seiders nonetheless predicted new home sales will continue to slow through the first three months of the year.
"I think we'll see a further erosion of sales during the first quarter," Seiders said, "But we're hoping not much more."
Regionally, the Commerce Department said the Midwest led the November sales rise with a 7.7 percent gain, the West recorded a 7.1 percent rise and the Northeast showed a 1.3 percent increase.
The only region where sales fell was in the South, where November sales dropped 0.9 percent from October.