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Existing-home sales slip in February

Nearly 1 in 3 Realtors report deal falling through

Sales of existing homes slipped slightly from January to February, but were up 8.8 percent from the same time a year ago, the National Association of Realtors reports.

The 0.9 percent January-to-February decline in existing-home sales was a surprise to some analysts, and NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun acknowledged that the market "is trending up unevenly."

NAR said a survey of its members showed that 31 percent of Realtors experienced contract failures in February, often because buyers saw their mortgage applications turned down, or because appraisals came in below the negotiated price. That compares with 33 percent reporting contract failures in January, and 9 percent in February 2011.

"Many buyers are staying in the market after experiencing a contract failure and making an offer on another property, showing their determination to take advantage of the favorable conditions, but the cancellations are contributing to an uneven sales pattern," Yun said.

The number of homes for sale at the end of February rose 4.3 percent from January, to 2.43 million, a 6.4-month supply at the current sales pace of 4.59 million homes per year, NAR said.

That’s up from a six-month supply in January, a number that many analysts view as an even balance between buyer demand and available inventory.

In another report, real estate data and analytics provider CoreLogic said there were 1.6 million additional units of "shadow inventory" in January — distressed properties not currently listed for sale on a multiple listings service (MLS) — down from 1.8 million homes a year ago.

NAR said sales of distressed homes — foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts — accounted for 34 percent of February sales, down from 35 percent in January and 39 percent in February 2011. In February, 1 in 5 existing homes sold had been foreclosed on and repossessed by lenders, and 14 percent were short sales.

All-cash purchases, typically by investors, accounted for 33 percent of existing-home sales in February, up from 31 percent the month before.

First-time homebuyers accounted for 32 percent of transactions in February, down from 33 percent in January and 34 percent in February 2011.

At $156,600, the national median existing-home price for all housing types — including single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops — was up 0.3 percent from a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 3.3 percent from January, to an annual level of 580,000 in February, but are 5.5 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $225,800, down 1.9 percent from February 2011.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 1 percent in February to a pace of 1.02 million and are 13.3 percent higher than February 2011. The median price in the Midwest was $120,500, which is 0.5 percent below a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 0.6 percent to an annual level of 1.77 million in February and are 9.3 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the South was $138,100, up 1.8 percent from February 2011.

Existing-home sales in the West declined 3.2 percent to an annual pace of 1.22 million in February but are 6.1 percent above February 2011. The median price in the West was $195,300, up 3.1 percent from a year ago.

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