WASHINGTON — Existing-home sales increased in August and reached the highest level in six-and-a-half years, while the median price shows nine consecutive months of double-digit year-over-year increases, according to the National Association of Realtors. Total sales rose 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.48 million in August from 5.39 million in July, and are 13.2 percent higher than the 4.84 million-unit level in August 2012. Sales are at the highest pace since February 2007, when they hit 5.79 million, and have remained above year-ago levels for the past 26 months.
NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said the market may be experiencing a temporary peak. “Rising mortgage interest rates pushed more buyers to close deals, but monthly sales are likely to be uneven in the months ahead from several market frictions,”he said. “Tight inventory is limiting choices in many areas, higher mortgage interest rates mean affordability is not as favorable as it was, and restrictive mortgage lending standards are keeping some otherwise qualified buyers from completing a purchase.”
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.46 percent in August from 4.37 percent in July, and is the highest since July 2011 when it was 4.55 percent; the rate was 3.60 percent in August 2012.
The national median existing-home price4 for all housing types was $212,100 in August, up 14.7 percent from August 2012. This is the strongest year-over-year price gain since October 2005 when the median rose 16.6 percent, and marks 18 consecutive months of year-over-year price increases.
Distressed homes5 foreclosures and short sales accounted for 12 percent of August sales, down from 15 percent in July, and is the lowest share since monthly tracking began in October 2008; they were 23 percent in August 2012. Ongoing declines in the share of distressed sales are responsible for some of the growth in median price.
Eight percent of August sales were foreclosures, and 4 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 16 percent below market value in August, while short sales were discounted 12 percent.
NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., said rising home values will encourage more people to sell. As the equity position of most homeowners continues to improve, some who have been on the sidelines will list their home for sale, he said. Most of those owners also will be buying another home, but higher levels of new home construction going into 2014, combined with some reduction in demand from less favorable affordability conditions, will help to moderate price growth to more sustainable levels.
The median time on market for all homes was 43 days in August, little changed from 42 days in July, but is much faster than the 70 days on market in August 2012. Short sales were on the market for a median of 98 days, while foreclosures typically sold in 52, days and non-distressed homes took 41 days. Forty-three percent of homes sold in August were on the market for less than a month.
First-time buyers accounted for 28 percent of purchases in August, down from 29 percent in July and 31 percent in August 2012.