RISMEDIA, January 27, 2009-Existing-home sales rose unexpectedly while inventory declined, led by a surge of sales in the West, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales-including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops-jumped 6.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.74 million units in December from a downwardly revised pace of 4.45 million units in November, but are 3.5% below the 4.91 million-unit pace in December 2007.

For all of 2008 there were 4,912,000 existing-home sales, which was 13.1% below the 5,652,000 transactions recorded in 2007. This is the lowest volume since 1997 when there were 4,371,000 sales.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said home prices continue to fall significantly. “It appears some buyers are taking advantage of much lower home prices,” he said. “The higher monthly sales gain and falling inventory are steps in the right direction, but the market is still far from normal balanced conditions. Buyers will continue to have an edge over sellers for the foreseeable future.”

Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 11.7% to 3.68 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.3-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 11.2-month supply in November.

Yun said the market is underperforming and hurting the broader economy. “We’ve added 25 million people to our population over the past decade and housing affordability conditions are the best we’ve seen since 1973, but household formation is much lower than expected,” he said. “Consequently, there is a pent-up demand which could be unleashed with the right stimulus, including a non-repayable home buyer tax credit. The Obama administration and Congress need to move fast to stimulate a spring sales upturn which will help to stabilize home prices and set the foundation for a sustainable economic recovery.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $175,400 in December, which is 15.3% below December 2007 when the median was $207,000. There remains a significant downward distortion in the current median from a large number of distress sales at discounted prices, currently 45% of transactions; the median is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. For all of 2008, the median price was $198,600, down 9.3% from $219,000 in 2007.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said it’s an excellent time for first-time home buyers with good jobs. “The typical buyer plans to stay in their home for 10 years, which is the correct approach in today’s market,” he said. “With historically low mortgage interest rates, flexible sellers, a large inventory, and homes that are selling for less than replacement construction costs in much of the country, buyers who’ve been on the fence should take a closer look at today’s market.”

McMillan added that first-time buyers may want to consider an FHA loan, which offers downpayments of 3.5% on a safe 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.29% in December from 6.09% in November; the rate was 6.10% in December 2007. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year rate was 5.12%.

Single-family home sales rose 7.0% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.26 million in December from a level of 3.98 million in November, but are 1.4% below a 4.32 million-unit pace in December 2007. For all of 2008, single-family sales fell 11.9% to 4,349,000.

The median existing single-family home price was $174,700 in December, down 14.8% from a year ago. For all of 2008, the single-family median was $197,100, which is 9.5% below 2007.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 2.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 480,000 units in December from 470,000 in November, but are 18.4% below the 588,000-unit level a year ago. For all of 2008, condo sales dropped 21.0% to 563,000 units.

The median existing condo price4 was $181,400 in December, down 18.3% from December 2007. For all of 2008, the median condo price was $210,000, which is 7.2% below 2007.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast slipped 1.4% to an annual pace of 720,000 in December, and are 14.3% below December 2007. The median price in the Northeast was $235,000, which is 7.8% lower than a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 4.0% in December to a level of 1.04 million but are 10.3% below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $140,800, down 11.4% from December 2007.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 7.4% to an annual pace of 1.74 million in December, but are 11.2% lower than December 2007. The median price in the South was $158,600, which is down 8.0% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West jumped 13.6% to an annual rate of 1.25 million in December and are 31.6% higher than a year ago. The median price in the West was $213,100, down 31.5% from December 2007.

For more information, visit www.Realtor.org.

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