Sales of existing homes rose in November compared to the month before, but fell sharply compared to November 2009, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors.
After a monthly drop in October, closed sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops increased 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million last month.
"Continuing gains in home sales are encouraging, and the positive impact of steady job creation will more than trump some negative impact from a modest rise in mortgage interest rates, which remain historically favorable," said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a statement.
Nevertheless, sales were down 27.9 percent from a rate of 6.49 million in November 2009, when sales surged in advance of the original deadline for the first-time homebuyer tax credit on Nov. 30, 2009. That month, first-time buyers accounted for 51 percent of sales, compared with 32 percent in November 2010, according to a separate NAR survey.
Cash buyers accounted for almost one-third of sales last month, 31 percent, compared with 19 percent in November 2009. Investors made up 19 percent of sales last month, up from 12 percent at the same time last year.
"The elevated level of all-cash transactions continues to reflect tight credit market conditions," Yun said.
Unsold inventory stood at 3.71 million at the end of November — a 9.5-month supply at the current sales rate, down from a 10.5-month supply in October, but up from a 6.5-month supply in November 2009.
A supply of six months’ inventory is considered to represent a rough equilibrium between a buyer’s market and a seller’s market, with a larger supply possibly indicating a buyer’s market.
Existing homes sold for a median $170,600 last month, essentially flat from November 2009. Distressed properties made up 33 percent of November sales, also flat year-over-year. Such properties typically sell for a discount compared to nondistressed homes. In November, that discount was a median 15 percent for foreclosures and a median 10 percent for short sales.
The Northeast was the only region to experience a significant year-over-year price jump in November, 9.2 percent, to a median $242,500. Existing-home sales rose the least month-to-month, up 2.7 percent, and fell 33 percent year-over-year to 770,000.
The Midwest saw both the biggest year-over-year drop in sales, down 35.1 percent, and the biggest month-to-month rise, up 6.4 percent, to 1 million. Homes sold for a median $138,900, down 1.1 percent year-over-year.
The South experienced the biggest price drop, 2.6 percent, to a median $148,000. Home sales there increased 2.9 percent month-to-month, but fell 26.1 percent year-over-year, to 1.76 million.
Sales figures were rosiest in the West. Homes sales increased 11.7 percent month-to-month while falling 19 percent year-over-year. The median price in the region remained essentially flat at $212,500.
A separate report from the California Association of Realtors found that sales of existing single-family homes in the state rose 9.2 percent month-to-month in November, but fell 8.6 percent year-over-year, to a rate of 490,950.
"We are encouraged by November’s sales increase, but realize a more sustained recovery is being hampered by the distressed market. While we are experiencing a greater share of short sales, these transactions are notoriously difficult to navigate with no guarantee of closure," said Beth L. Peerce, CAR’s president, in a statement.
"A recent CAR survey indicated that it takes many lenders 90 days or more simply to communicate whether a short sale has been accepted, causing tremendous frustration for buyers and sellers. Moreover, the survey found that more than two out of five short-sale transactions never close. The housing market can’t fully recover until lenders streamline and improve the short-sales process, which would help expedite transactions."
For the first time since February, California’s median home price fell below $300,000 last month, to $296,820. That’s a 2.5 percent drop from November 2009 — the first annual decline in a year, CAR said.
CAR reported a 6.2-month supply of unsold inventory in the state last month, down from 6.5 months in October and up from 4.5 months in November 2009. It took a median 54.7 days to sell a single-family home in November, up from 33.1 days during the same month a year ago.
The San Luis Obispo region saw the state’s biggest year-over-year price decline, down 14.5 percent to $350,000. The Santa Barbara South Coast region saw the biggest price jump, up 16.6 percent to $874,500, which was also the highest median price for a region in the state.
Fifteen of the 19 regions tracked by CAR experienced year-over-year drops in sales. Sales fell the most in the High Desert region, down 19.9 percent, followed by the Riverside/San Bernardino region, -16.8 percent, and Santa Cruz County, -16 percent.
North Santa Barbara County saw the biggest jump in sales, up 24.7 percent, followed by Santa Barbara County as a whole, up 8.7 percent.