Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says home sales had a nice rebound in March following February’s uncharacteristically large decline. “Closings came back in force last month as a greater number of buyers – mostly in the Northeast and Midwest – overcame depressed inventory levels and steady price growth to close on a home,” he said. “Buyer demand remains sturdy in most areas this spring and the mid-priced market is doing quite well. However, sales are softer both at the very low and very high ends of the market because of supply limitations and affordability pressures.”
The median existing-home price for all housing types in March was $222,700, up 5.7 percent from March 2015 ($210,700). March’s price increase marks the 49th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.
“The choppiness in sales activity so far this year is directly related to the unevenness in the rate of new listings coming onto the market to replace what is, for the most part, being sold rather quickly,” adds Yun. “Additionally, a segment of would-be buyers at the upper end of the market appear to have been spooked by January’s stock market correction.”
“With rents steadily rising and average fixed rates well below 4 percent, qualified first-time buyers should be more active participants than what they are right now,” adds Yun. “Unfortunately, the same underlying deterrents impacting their ability to buy haven’t subsided so far in 2016. Affordability and the low availability of starter homes is still a major barrier for them in most markets.”
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NAR President Tom Salomone, broker-owner of Real Estate II Inc. in Coral Springs, Florida, says despite modest improvements, mortgage credit is still difficult to come by for many first-time buyers and middle-income households. “Reducing the Federal Housing Administration’s annual mortgage insurance premium rate and repealing its life-of-loan policy requirement would certainly expand options for more of these buyers,” he said. “These changes would save consumers money and further strengthen the FHA’s program by enticing more creditworthy borrowers to seek out FHA-insured loans.”
All-cash sales were 25 percent of transactions in March (unchanged from February) and are up from 24 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in March, down from 18 percent in February and unchanged from a year ago. Sixty-six percent of investors paid cash in March.