Existing-home sales rose slightly in January and prices continued their year-over-year climb on plunging inventory, according to a monthly

Existing-home sales rose slightly in January and prices continued their year-over-year climb on plunging inventory, according to a monthly report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released today.

Existing homes sold at seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million during January, down 0.4 percent from December but  up 9.1 percent from a year ago.

The national median existing-home price fell 4 percent from December but was up 12.3 percent from a year ago to $173,600. It was the 11th consecutive month to show an annual increase in median price — a string not seen since May 2006.

Existing-home inventory dropped 25.3 percent from a year ago to 1.74 million units, which represents a supply of 4.2 months at the current sales rate. That’s the lowest since April 2005, when inventory also equaled to 4.2 months of supply. In raw numbers, there were fewer homes on the market in January than at any time since December 1999.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said buyer demand is still high and that tight inventory is the driving factor in the current market. "Buyer traffic is 40 percent above a year ago, so there is plenty of demand but insufficient inventory to improve sales more strongly," he said in a statement. "We’ve transitioned into a seller’s market in much of the country."

Source: Calculated Risk blog

Existing homes were on the market for a median of 71 days in January — down from 73 days in December, and below the 99-day mark set in January 2012. About a third of existing homes for sale in January were on the market for less than a month, NAR noted.

First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchasers in January, unchanged from December.

Distressed homes accounted for 23 percent of all existing-home sales in January — down from 35 percent in January 2012 and 24 percent from December. Foreclosures made up 14 percent of January existing-home sales and sold for an average of 20 percent below market value, while short sales, which made up 9 percent of January’s sales, sold for 12 percent below market value.

All-cash deals accounted for 28 percent of January’s sales, down 1 percentage point from December’s portion. Investors accounted for 19 percent of existing-home sales in January.

Existing-home sales, January 2012

Seasonally adjusted annual rate 4.92 million
% change from January 2012 +9.1%
% change from December 2012 +0.4%
National median price $173,600
% change from January 2012 +12.3%
Unsold inventory (months’ supply) 4.2
Share of all-cash buyers 28%
Share of investor buyers 19%
Share of first-time buyers 30%
Share of distressed sales 23%

Source: National Association of Realtors

Regionally, the West saw a 5.7 percent dip in existing-home sales from January 2012 to an annual pace of 1.15 million units and was the only region where sales didn’t go up on a year-over-year basis in January. Median prices were $239,800 in January, up 26.6 percent from January 2012, the largest yearly proportional price jump, by far, of any region.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest were up 17.2 percent in January to an annual pace of 1.16 million units from January 2012. The median sales price was up, too, for the year, to $131,800, 8.6 percent above last January’s median price.

The South saw home sales increase 14 percent from a year ago in January to a yearly pace of 1.96 million units, with a median price up 13.4 percent, on an annual basis, to $152,100.

In the Northeast, sales were up 12.1 percent from a year ago to an annual rate of 650,000 units in January, and the median price moved up 2.4 percent from last January to $230,500.

Also today, NAR released its annual revisions to monthly seasonally adjusted existing-home sales data for the past three years, from 2010 through 2012. Revisions were minor, from zero to less than 3 percent up or down. NAR rebenchmarked its existing-home sales data in December 2011 after overestimating home sales by more than 14 percent between 2007 and 2010.

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