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Brokers, builders win with sales surge

Signs of another down year in real estate

Although the most recent numbers out for home sales — both new and existing — showed a surge, inventory may yet continue to rise past the summer, according to an analysis by property search and valuation site Zillow.

Both the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders credited the federal homebuyer tax credits — $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers — for the March jump in sales. Even as existing-home sales rose, however, more homes hit the market last month than were sold. Raw unsold inventory rose by 1.5 percent to 3.58 million units, according to data from NAR.

"While the fact that March sales numbers are increasing is undoubtedly a positive sign, (that rising figure) does make one at least ponder whether the market is currently capable of clearing itself of inventory without paying people to buy homes (through tax credits)," wrote Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist, in the analysis.

The upcoming months, through June, will likely see what Humphries called a "mini-frenzy" in sales, but inventory is rising because of a three-year pent-up supply of homes whose owners were only waiting for positive signs from the market to sell, the company said. Zillow estimated that 8 percent of homeowners fall into this group.

Home sellers tend to put more listings on the market during the spring and summer, but the tax credits have pushed demand that would normally occur in July and August forward, Humphries said. To qualify for the credits, buyers must have signed a purchase contract by April 30 and must have closed the transaction by June 30.

"It will be bad if we don’t make much headway in pushing down inventory levels through June, because we will undoubtedly see a reduction in home sales on a monthly basis in July and August," Humphries said. "This mid-summer drop-off will likely increase inventory levels so, if we haven’t been successful in pushing them down before then, we’ll likely end up with more inventory on the market than we have now, even after what is likely to be a robust homebuyer season in the spring and summer."

In a separate report earlier this month, Altos Research cited rising inventory as the biggest concern for the housing market this year. Rising inventory tends to encourage sellers to lower listing prices, thereby preventing the market from stabilizing, the real estate data company said.


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