National economic activity continued to expand in October and November, while real estate activity across the nation was inconsistent and varied, according to the latest Beige Book from the Federal Reserve Board.

Meanwhile, lending typically held steady or increased.

Reports on residential real estate activity were mixed across the 12 Federal Reserve districts. About half of the 12 districts reported an increase in home sales.

Many Districts indicated that sales in the multifamily sector were stronger than sales in the single-family sector.

Home prices were little changed in most Districts, although prices increased in the Richmond, Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts.

Employment gains were widespread across Districts in October and November, if limited by flat wage growth.

The following is from the Beige Book report:

First District-Boston

In September, closed sales of single-family homes increased from a year earlier in four of the six New England states. Massachusetts experienced declining year-over-year sales for an eighth consecutive month; contacts in New Hampshire were unavailable to provide data.

The median sales price for single-family homes decreased in three of the four states with sales increases; Maine was the exception, with a year-over-year increase in median sales price. Prices in Massachusetts remained flat, ending 23 consecutive months of year-over-year price rises.

Massachusetts contacts say buyers are not willing to overextend themselves financially as home prices move higher, but some expect prices to remain flat, some say they will decline, and others expect an increase in the coming months; among the latter, one contact notes that preliminary October data show a modest increase in price compared to October 2013. Scarcity of inventory remains a concern in Massachusetts, with another consecutive month of year-over-year declines in inventory.

Contacts in Massachusetts say new listings are insufficient to meet demand; they emphasize a need for new construction and for more sellers to list properties. By contrast, inventories are plentiful in Vermont, where there is more than 20 months of supply; Realtors typically say a market is balanced when there is six months of supply--the current level in Rhode Island. Contacts across the First District believe recent market trends will continue in coming months.

Residential real estate contacts say they are generally content. Many contacts are optimistic about the new Qualified Residential Mortgage rule, expecting it to ease down payment and credit score requirements and thereby help qualified consumers afford and purchase a house.

Second District-New York

The District's housing markets have taken on a somewhat softer tone in recent weeks. New York City's residential rental market has shown signs of softening: Rents in Manhattan and Brooklyn are reported to be steady to down slightly from a year ago, though they continue to rise modestly in Queens.

Overall, New York City's co-op and condo market showed continued strength in October and early November--sales activity was down modestly from a year earlier but was still described as brisk, and lean inventories and strong demand continued to nudge up prices, which are reported to be running about 5% higher than a year ago. Single-family markets in Long Island and Staten Island — as well as in northern New Jersey, where there remains a large overhang of distressed properties —have lagged somewhat.

The Buffalo-area market is characterized as having shifted from a seller's market to one that is more balanced, with sales activity leveling off and inventories continuing to build. Across New York State more broadly, the median selling price for single-family homes has edged down in recent months and was down slightly in October relative to a year earlier. New single-family construction activity has been sluggish, while multifamily construction has been robust.

Third District-Philadelphia

Third District homebuilders have reported lower traffic and declining numbers of contract signings since the previous Beige Book period. Builders report that first-time homebuyers remain scarce and that contracts for new homes with existing homeowners are often burdened by contingencies to sell their current home.

Builders are entering a seasonally slow period that will likely extend over the remainder of the year; contacts reported starting some additional homes on spec to maintain sufficient activity for their construction crews. Although existing home sales tend to decline at this time of year, residential real estate brokers observed that sales were greater than expected.

On a year-over-year basis, closings and pending sales are turning positive again in most major markets. Brokers continued to note some difficulties with buyers securing financing and with contingent contracts as buyers struggle to sell their own homes. Brokers do not expect overall sales in 2014 to surpass 2013 levels, but remain optimistic for a return to growth in 2015.

Fourth District-Cleveland

Sales of new and existing single-family homes varied across geographic markets during the past six weeks. Several builders and real estate agents, who experienced slow sales during the summer, reported rising activity in September and October.

In total, home sales showed a modest decline in the fourth quarter when compared to the third quarter. A couple of builders noted that they believe the decline is more than a seasonal effect. Reports on year-over-year home sales were mixed.

Most builders expect that activity will stay at current levels, though they expressed concern about a potential rise in interest rates, continued strict lending standards, and rising development costs. Multifamily development remains strong.

New-home contracts were mainly in the move-up price-point categories. First-time buyers still have difficulty qualifying for mortgages. A majority of builders reported raising prices on homes during the past couple of months in response to increased costs for labor and materials. The upward trend in selling prices of existing homes has flattened out, but the current average price remains higher than the average level for 2013 by a few percent.

Fifth District-Richmond

District housing market activity increased modestly on balance since the previous report. Realtors continued to report steady levels of buyer traffic with slight increases in sale prices. Most brokers reported low levels of housing inventories, although contacts in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia had slight increases.

Average days on the market decreased in central Virginia and in the District of Columbia, but increased slightly in the Carolinas and Northern Virginia. A Northern Virginia Realtor reported greater movement in the $200,000 to $900,000 price range, but had fewer buyers for homes priced above $1 million, and said condo sales were stagnant.

A contact in South Carolina reported tepid condo sales and steady demand for single-family homes priced below $250,000. Realtors reported no change in new home construction. Multifamily leasing was strong in Charlotte and Baltimore.

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