Existing-home sales continue rise

July saw the highest level of existing-home sales for the entire year of 2014 so far, reaching a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million, according to the National Association of Realtors.

This is up 2.4% from June's downwardly revised rate of 5.03 million. However, sales are still 4.3% below last July's 5.38 million-unit level (also that year's peak).

In terms of single-family homes, sales were up 2.7% on a monthly basis to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.55 million. This is still 4.2% below last year's pace.

The NAR pointed to a significant decline in distressed sales and a strengthening economy, riding on the back of job growth and improving inventory. However, affordability may take a hit in the near future, as median family incomes are not rising as quickly as prices.

“The number of houses for sale is higher than a year ago and tamer price increases are giving prospective buyers less hesitation about entering the market,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “More people are buying homes compared to earlier in the year and this trend should continue with interest rates remaining low and apartment rents on the rise.”

The median existing-home price was up 4.9% year-over-year to $222,900; for single-family homes, that number was $223,900 (up 5.1%).

Total housing inventory was up 3.5% to 2.37 million existing homes for sale, representing a 5.5-month supply.

Distressed homes were finally below the double-digit mark, accounting for 9% of July sales (compared to 15% last year).

“To put it in perspective, distressed sales represented an average of 36% of sales during all of 2009,” said Yun. “Fast-forward to today and rising home values are helping owners recover equity and strong job creation are assisting those who may have fallen behind on their mortgage due to unemployment or underemployment.”

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