Existing-home sales are expected to reach the third-highest total on record this year, the National Association of Realtors announced today in its latest forecast.

Existing-home sales are projected at 6.47 million this year, a decline of 8.6 percent compared to 2005, and are expected to fall 1 percent to 6.4 million in 2007.

New-home sales for this year, meanwhile, are expected to fall 17.7 percent to 1.06 million, which is the fourth-highest total on record. The association also expects new-home sales to decline another 9.4 percent in 2007 to 957,000.

The association’s chief economist expects total housing starts to drop 12.3 percent this year to 1.82 million units, with another 15.1 percent drop in 2007 to 1.54 million.

“Much of the contraction in the new housing market results from cuts in builder construction to support pricing for current inventories. In addition, high construction costs in many areas are minimizing potential profits,” according to the Realtor group’s announcement.

David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement that there are mixed conditions for housing in different regions of the country. “Roughly three-quarters of the country will experience a sluggish expansion in 2007, while other areas should continue to contract for at least part of the year. Most of the correction in home prices is behind us, but general gains in value next year will be modest by historical standards,” Lereah stated.

He also stated that there is a “window of opportunity” for buyers, as sellers are becoming more flexible and there has been “an unexpected drop in mortgage interest rates. These conditions will persist in many areas until early spring, when inventory supplies are likely to become more balanced.”

Lereah predicts that existing-home sales will be 4.6 higher in fourth-quarter 2007 compared to the fourth quarter of this year.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is forecast to gradually increase to 6.7 percent by fourth-quarter 2007. Last week, Freddie Mac reported that the 30-year fixed rate dropped to 6.11 percent.

The national median existing-home price for all of 2006 is projected to rise 1.4 percent to $222,600, with another 1 percent gain next year to $224,700. The median new-home price is expected to slide 0.5 percent to $239,700 this year, then rise 0.8 percent in 2007 to $241,700.

Lereah stated that prices are now “temporarily a little below a year ago when we were in a strong seller’s market,” Lereah said. “This correction is one of the factors drawing buyers into the current market, but most sellers are still seeing very healthy long-term gains.”

The unemployment rate is expected to be 4.8 percent in 2007, up from the estimated average of 4.6 percent this year. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, is forecast to be 3.4 percent for 2006 and 2.3 percent in 2007, while growth in the U.S. gross domestic product is expected to be 3.3 percent for all of this year and 2.3 percent in 2007. Inflation-adjusted disposable personal income is projected to grow 2.6 percent for 2006 and 3.5 percent next year, the Realtor group reported.

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