Northeast Home Sales Rise in November; Still Down Year-to-Date

Real Estate In-Depth | December 2019

WASHINGTON—Existing-home sales fell in November, taking a small step back after October’s gains, according to data released recently by the National Association of Realtors. The Northeast and Midwest both reported sales growth last month, while the South and West saw sales decline.

Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, decreased 1.7% from October to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in November. However, sales were up 2.7% from a year ago (5.21 million in November 2018).

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said the overall decline in sales for November is not a cause for worry. “Sales will be choppy when inventory levels are low, but the economy is otherwise performing very well with more than 2.0 million job gains in the past year,” said Yun.

The median existing-home price for all housing types in October was $271,300, up 5.4% from November 2018 ($257,400), as prices rose in all regions. November’s price increase marked 93 straight months of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of November totaled 1.64 million units, down approximately 7.3% from October and 5.7% from one year ago (1.74 million). Unsold inventory currently sits at a 3.7-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.9 months in October and from the 4.0-month figure recorded in November 2018. Unsold inventory totals have declined for five consecutive months, constraining home sales.

Compared to one year ago, fewer homes were sold below $250,000; with a 16% decline for homes priced below $100,000 and a 4% reduction for homes priced from $100,000 to below $250,000.

“The new home construction seems to be coming to the market, but we are still not seeing the amount of construction needed to solve the housing shortage,” Yun said. “It is time for builders to be innovative and creative, possibly incorporating more factory-made modules to make houses affordable rather than building homes all on-site.”

Properties typically remained on the market for 38 days in November, seasonally up from 36 days in October, but down from the 42 days in November 2018. Forty-five percent of homes sold in November 2019 were on the market for less than a month.

First-time buyers were responsible for 32% of sales in November, essentially hovering at the 31% seen in October and 33% in November 2018. NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers—released in late 2019—revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 33%.

Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 16% of homes in November 2019, up from both 14% in October and from 13% in November 2018. All-cash sales accounted for 20% of transactions in November, about even with 19% in October and 21% in November 2018.

Distressed sales—foreclosures and short sales—represented 2% of sales in November, unchanged from both October 2019 and November 2018.

Yun cited the recently held NAR Real Estate Forecast Summit, in which 14 leading housing and financial industry economists predicted that the U.S. will likely avoid a recession in 2020 while projecting the economy to grow 2% in the coming year.

“The consensus was that mortgage rates may rise, but only incrementally,” Yun said. “I expect to see home price affordability improvements, too. This year we witnessed housing costs grow faster than income, but the expectation is for prices to settle at a more reasonable level in the coming year in line with average hourly wage growth of 3% on a year-over-year basis.”

Additionally, the majority of the economists—69%—did not anticipate an increase in the federal funds rate, while 31% expect the Federal Open Market Committee will lower the rate next year. The group predicted an average annual 30-year fixed mortgage rate of 3.8% and home prices (existing and new homes) to increase at a slower rate of 3.6%.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.70% in November, up from 3.69% in October. The average commitment rate across all of 2018 was 4.54%.

Single-Family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales sat at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.79 million in November, down from 4.85 million in October, but up 3.5% from a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $274,000 in November 2019, up 5.4% from November 2018.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units in November, down 5.1% from October and 3.4% lower than a year ago. The median existing condo price was $248,200 in November, which was an increase of 4.5% from a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

Compared to the previous month, November sales increased in the Northeast and Midwest regions, while year-over-year sales were up in all regions except the Northeast. Median home prices in all regions increased from one year ago, with the West region showing the strongest price gain.

November 2019 existing-home sales in the Northeast grew 1.4% to an annual rate of 700,000, down 1.4% from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $301,700, up 3.9% from November 2018.

Existing-home sales increased at the strongest pace in the Midwest at 2.3% to an annual rate of 1.32 million, up 1.5% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $209,700, a 5.9% jump from last November.

Existing-home sales in the South dropped 3.9% to an annual rate of 2.24 million in October, but were up 3.7% from a year ago. The median price in the South was $234,400, a 4.8% increase from this time last year.

Existing-home sales in the West declined 3.5% to an annual rate of 1.09 million in November, but were up 4.8% from a year ago. The median price in the West was $410,700, up 7.1% from November 2018.