March sees increase in existing-home sales

Existing-home sales in March increased 3.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.10 million, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported this morning.

February's sales estimate was revised upwards from 4.88 million to 4.92 million. March's estimate is 6.3% below March 2010, when existing-home sales were at a pace of 5.44 million.

The month-to-month increase is a pattern the NAR expects to continue. “Existing-home sales have risen in six of the past eight months, so we’re clearly on a recovery path,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “With rising jobs and excellent affordability conditions, we project moderate improvements into 2012, but not every month will show a gain -- primarily because some buyers are finding it too difficult to obtain a mortgage. For those fortunate enough to qualify for financing, monthly mortgage payments as a percent of income have been at record lows.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $159,600 in March, down 5.9% from March 2010. Distressed homes -- typically sold at discounts in the vicinity of 20% -- accounted for a 40% market share in March, up from 39% in February and 35% in March 2010.

“Although home sales are coming back without a federal stimulus, sales would be notably stronger if mortgage lending would return to the normal, safe standards that were in place a decade ago -- before the loose lending practices that created the unprecedented boom and bust cycle,” Yun said.

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