What happened: Sales of previously-owned homes fell more sharply than expected in March as the usual housing headwinds stalked the market. The surge in February was the strongest in nearly four years, and the Realtor lobby group is attributing the March decline to a return to normalcy after that spike. Still, sales were 5.4% lower than a year ago.
The median price of a home sold in March was $259,400, a 3.8% increase versus a year ago. At the current pace of sales, it would take 3.9 months to exhaust available supply, still well below the long-time average of 6 months. Properties stayed on the market for an average of 36 days in March, down from 44 days in February but a bit longer than the 30 days averaged last year.
According to NAR’s measure of first-time buyers, they accounted for 33% of all transactions in March. But more recent comprehensive research – NAR’s is based on survey data – suggests first-time buyers currently make up about the same share of the market that they have for the past two decades.
Activity was mixed regionally, as always, but all regions saw a decline. In the Northeast, sales were down 2.9%, and in the South they fell 3.4%. In the West, which has suffered for several months, in large part because of the recent tax law changes, sales fell 6%. But the Midwest saw the biggest decline, of 7.9%.
Big picture: The housing market is getting a second wind from the steep decline in mortgage rates over the past few months, although rates may have bottomed out. And there still isn’t enough inventory of the type that’s most needed. “The lower-end market is hot while the upper-end market is not,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.
It’s normally the government’s data on newly-constructed homes that are so choppy, not the existing-home market, which accounts for most of the sales activity in housing.
What they’re saying: “March might be the closest approximation we have seen in a while to the true underlying sales pace,” said Amherst Pierpont Securities’ Stephen Stanley after the release. “The 3-month average through February was 5.14 million. The March pace picked up modestly from there but was still short of the 2018 tally of 5.34 million. The National Association of Realtors is optimistic (when are they not?!?) that lower mortgage rates and a better inventory situation will help to propel sales forward during the peak spring season.”
Market reaction: Stocks DJIA, -0.14% , which were responding to geopolitical concerns on Monday, were little changed after the report.
The SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB) was trading at $40.81 per share on Monday afternoon, down $0.27 (-0.66%). Year-to-date, XHB has declined -7.61%, versus a 9.11% rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.
This article is brought to you courtesy of MarketWatch.