NAR: Existing home sales fell 2.2% in October
Existing homes sales dipped 2.2% in October, but came in above most analyst estimates while remaining near record lows. The National Association of Realtors said seasonally adjusted sales fell to 4.43 million last month from 4.53 million in September. The monthly rate is down 26% from the nearly 6 million units sold in October 2009, but slowly moving away from the 3.83 million reported in July, which was the lowest level recorded since NAR began publishing the report in 1999. Economists polled by Econoday were expecting October sales to fall slightly to 4.5 million with a range of estimates between 4.25 million and 4.7 million. A Briefing.com survey projected sales of 4.2 million for last month. Through 10 months, existing home sales of 4.15 million are 2.9% lower than about 4.27 million a year earlier. "The housing market is experiencing an uneven recovery, and a temporary foreclosure stoppage in some states is likely to have held back a number of completed sales," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said. "Still, sales activity is clearly off the bottom and is attempting to settle into normal sustainable levels. Based on current and improving job market conditions, and from attractive affordability conditions, sales should steadily improve to healthier levels of above 5 million by spring of next year." In early October, the nation's largest lenders suspended foreclosures across the country to review processes and possible problems with affidavits and document notarizations. The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage bounced around historic lows throughout October, according to Freddie Mac. The Federal Housing Finance Agency also reported lower rates in October, down significantly from September. NAR President Ron Phipps pointed to tighter lending standards and low appraisals as reasons for slow sale despite the record low interest rates. "We’ll likely see some impact from the foreclosure moratorium in the months ahead, but overly tight credit is making it difficult for some creditworthy borrowers to qualify for a mortgage, and we are continuing to deal with a notable share of appraisals coming in below a price negotiated between a buyer and seller," said Phipps, who is president of Phipps Realty in Rhode Island. NAR, which measures the completed transactions of single-family, townhomes, condos and co-ops, said the median price for all housing types was $170,500 in October, down 0.9% from a year earlier. Distressed sales accounted for 34% of sales last month, down slightly from 35% in September and up from 30% a year earlier. Write to Jason Philyaw.