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Has spring buying season finally arrived?

Existing-home sales up for first time in 2014

String of houses

Existing-home sales increased for the first time this year, rising 1.3% to 4.65 million, the National Association of Realtors' latest report found.

This is compared to 4.59 million in March, but still 6.8% below the 4.99 million-unit level in April 2013.

However, Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, noted that he expected the improvement.

“Some growth was inevitable after sub-par housing activity in the first quarter, but improved inventory is expanding choices and sales should generally trend upward from this point,” Yun said. “Annual home sales, however, due to a sluggish first quarter, will likely be lower than last year.”  

In addition, total housing inventory at the end of April escalated 16.8% to 2.29 million existing homes available for sale, representing a 5.9-month supply at the current sales pace. This is up from 5.1 months in March.

Unsold inventory is 6.5% higher than a year ago, when there was a 5.2-month supply.

“We’ll continue to see a balancing act between housing inventory and price growth, which remains stronger than normal simply because there have not been enough sellers in many areas. More inventory and increased new-home construction will help to foster healthy market conditions,” Yun added.

This news follows Freddie Mac’s latest mortgage rate report Thursday that showed interest rates have continued to drop and have reached a six-month low

Additionally, a report from the other GSE shows that while housing remains "worrisome," Fannie Mae's chief econmist is expecting growth in 2014. "We anticipate economic growth to gain momentum in the second quarter and remain firm throughout the rest of this year,” said Fannie chief economist Doug Duncan.

The positive housing news was welcomed by Quicken Loans Vice President Bill Banfield, who said, "The spring housing market may be a little late to bloom but the increase in sales is welcome news showing increased confidence in the economy. The biggest story to come out of this report is the boost in home inventory, which has been one of the key issues holding back both buyers and sellers in the first part of this year.”

On the other hand, Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza offers a note of caution to the day's good news. "After back-to-back months of declining sales at the start of the year, warmer spring weather hasn't been enough to create noticeable momentum in housing purchases, sentiment echoed yesterday by NY Federal Reserve President William Dudley," she said. "Industry insiders remain cautiously optimistic as we head into the key spring selling season, but with prices on the rise, many potential home-buyers are reportedly being priced out of the market. Going forward, if housing values continue to escalate, easier lending standards may be needed to ramp up housing activity."

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