By Kerry Smith
Year-to-year, sales declined 2.4%. NAR’s chief economist calls it a “double whammy” for buyers who face rising mortgage rates and sustained price increases.
WASHINGTON – U.S. existing-home sales dipped in February, continuing a seesawing pattern of gains and declines over the last few months, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).
Each of the four major U.S. regions tracked in NAR’s monthly survey saw sales fall on a month-over-month basis. While sales activity year-over-year was also down overall, the South – the region that includes Florida – saw an increase while the remaining three regions reported drops.
Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – sank 7.2% from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.02 million in February. Year-over-year, sales decreased 2.4% (6.17 million in February 2021).
“Housing affordability continues to be a major challenge as buyers are getting a double whammy: rising mortgage rates and sustained price increases,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Some who had previously qualified at a 3% mortgage rate are no longer able to buy at the 4% rate.
“Monthly payments have risen by 28% from one year ago – which interestingly is not a part of the consumer price index – and the market remains swift with multiple offers still being recorded on most properties.”
Total housing inventory at the end of February totaled 870,000 units, up 2.4% from January and down 15.5% from one year ago (1.03 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 1.7-month supply at the current sales pace, up from the record-low supply in January of 1.6 months, but down from 2.0 months in February 2021.
“The sharp jump in mortgage rates and increasing inflation is taking a heavy toll on consumers’ savings,” Yun says. “However, I expect the pace of price appreciation to slow as demand cools and as supply improves somewhat due to more home construction.”
The median existing-home price for all housing types in February was $357,300, up 15.0% from February 2021 ($310,600), with prices higher in all four regions. It’s the 120th consecutive months for year-over-year increases – the longest-running streak on record.
Properties typically remained on the market for 18 days in February, down from 19 days in January and 20 days in February 2021, with 84% of February homes on the market for less than a month.
First-time buyers made up 29% of February sales, an increase from 27% in January, though down from 31% in February 2021.
Individual investors or second-home buyers, who make up many cash sales, purchased 19% of homes in February, down from 22% in January and up from 17% in February 2021. All-cash sales accounted for 25% of transactions in February, down from 27% in January and up from 22% in February 2021.
Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented less than 1% of sales in February, equal to the percentage seen both month-to-month and year-to-year.
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.76% in February, up from 3.45% in January. The average commitment rate across all of 2021 was 2.96%.
Single-family and condo/co-op sales: Single-family home sales jumped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in February, down 7.0% month-to-month and down 2.2% year-to-year. The median existing single-family home price was $363,800 in February, up 15.5% from February 2021.
Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 units in February, down 9.5% from 740,000 in January and down 4.3% from one year ago. The median existing condo price was $305,400 in February, an annual increase of 10.9%.
“For the past couple of years, buyers have had to contend with a market of high demand, low inventory and a mix of uncertainties with COVID-19 protocols,” says NAR President Leslie Rouda Smith. “Consumers are presently challenged with higher mortgage rates, so now, more than ever, interested buyers need the trusted expertise of Realtors in order to navigate this current market.”
Regional breakdown: Existing-home sales in the Northeast slipped 11.5% in February, registering an annual rate of 690,000 – a 12.7% drop from February 2021. The median price in the Northeast was $383,700, up 7.1% from one year ago.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest sagged 11.3% from the prior month to an annual rate of 1,330,000 in February, a 1.5% decrease from February 2021. The median price in the Midwest was $248,900, a 7.5% climb from February 2021.
Existing-home sales in the South fell 5.1% in February month-to-month, posting an annual rate of 2,790,000 – which was an increase of 3.0% compared to February 2021. The median price in the South was $318,800, an 18.1% jump from one year earlier.
For the sixth straight month, the South experienced the highest pace of price appreciation compared to the other regions.
“Employment is vital for housing demand,” said Yun. “The Southern states are seeing faster job growth, and consequently, it’s the only region to experience a sales gain from a year ago.”
Existing-home sales in the West slid 4.7% from the previous month, reporting an annual rate of 1,210,000 in February, down 8.3% from one year ago. The median price in the West was $512,600, up 7.1% from February 2021.