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U.S. existing-home sales climbed to 13-year high in February

February's sales were 6.5% above January's rate and 7.2% above 2019

U.S. existing-home sales rose 6.5% in February, increasing to a 13-year high, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Total existing-home sales completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops – rose to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.77 million. This means sales were 7.2% above February 2019’s rate.

According to Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, February’s sales of over 5 million homes was the strongest increase since February 2007.

“I would attribute that to the incredibly low mortgage rates and the steady release of a sizable pent-up housing demand that was built over recent years,” he said.

In February, total homes available for sale came in at 1.47 million, up 5% from January but down 9.8% from 2019’s rate of 1.63 million.

There was a 3.1-month supply of unsold inventory at the current sales pace, remaining the same as January’s levels, but down from 3.6 in February 2019. Properties stayed on the market an average of 36 days in February, falling from 43 days in January and down from 44 days in 2019. During the month, 47% of homes stayed on the market for less than a month.

According to NAR, the median price for an existing home was $270,100, a gain of 8% from 2019’s rate of $250,100. This marks the 96th straight month of year-over-year gains.

First-time buyers comprised 32% of sales in February, holding steady from December and January 2019’s rate. NAR revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers held steady at 33%.

Single-family home sales increased from a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million in January to 5.17 million in February, which is 7.3% above 2019’s rate. The median existing single-family home price was $272,400 in February, increasing 8.1% from 2019’s rate. 

Existing condominium and co-op sales recorded a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 600,000 units in February, which is about equal to January’s rate but 7.1% higher than 2019. The median existing condo price was $249,900 in February, rising 7% from the previous year.

While the impacts of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues to impact the housing market, Yun said once the effects of the pandemic pass, more homebuyers are likely to return to the market.

“For the past couple of months, we have seen the number of buyers grow as more people enter the market,” Yun said. “Once the social-distancing and quarantine measures are relaxed, we should see this temporary pause evaporate, and will have potential buyers return with the same enthusiasm.”

That being said, Yun noted that February’s home sales were encouraging but not reflective of the current turmoil in the stock market or the significant hit the economy is expected to take because of the coronavirus.

“These figures show that housing was on a positive trajectory, but the coronavirus has undoubtedly slowed buyer traffic and it is difficult to predict what short-term effects the pandemic will have on future sales,” Yun said.

Despite the market’s instability, of the four major regions, only the Northeast reported a decline in existing-home sales, while the remaining regions saw increases, including sizable sales gains in the West, according to NAR.

Here’s a regional breakdown of the nation’s existing-home sales:

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 4.1% from the prior month’s rate to an annual rate of 700,000, which is up 2.9% from 2019. The median price in the Northeast increased by 8.2% from February 2019 and came in at $295,400.
  • In the Midwest, existing-home sales grew from the previous month’s pace by 0.8%, coming in at an annual rate of 1.29 million, which is up 4% from February 2019’s level. The median price in the Midwest was $203,700, increasing 7.9% from last year.
  • Southern existing home sales increased by 7.2% to an annual rate of 2.52 million in February, up 8.2% from 2019. The median price in the South climbed to $238,000, rising 8.2% from February 2019.
  • Existing-home sales in the West jumped by 18.9% to an annual rate of 1.26 million in February, which is an 11.5% rise from 2019’s rate. The median price in the West was $410,100, increasing 8.1% from this time in 2019.

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