Recent financial news may not be all doom and gloom. CNBC reports that existing home sales rose more than expected during March.
Sales were expected to increase by 5.2%, but instead took the market off guard by toppling 6.8%. CNBC says that the sharp increase may be the first whiff of optimism eking from the housing market after years of a free fall decline.
Typically spring kicks off the home buying season, however in previous years March and April only contributed to the market’s downward spiral. In 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported that home sales were down by 7.1% in March and that overall sales were in a volatile state.
Why Did Existing Home Sales Rise in March?
With the good news of buyers snapping up existing homes off the market, what type of homes are being purchased and why now? The National Association of Realtors says that some buyers are trying to purchase a home before the April 30 buyer tax credit expires. First time homebuyers can earn up to an $8,000 tax credit whereas repeat home buyers can count on a $6,500 tax credit.
Another reason March has been prosperous is due to a slowdown in inventory and median home price stabilization. According to chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, Lawrence Yun, foreclosures and home value stabilization have been helping to feed the new sales trend.
He says, "Foreclosures have been feeding into the inventory pipeline at a fairly steady pace and are being absorbed manageably. In fact, foreclosures are selling quickly, especially in the lower price ranges that are attractive to first-time home buyers."
It’s All About Mortgage Rates and Home Prices
First time homebuyers are also diving into the market thanks to historically low mortgage rates in addition to the home buyer tax credit. According to Freddie Mac, rates fell even lower than what many believed were at the bottom of 4.99% APY in February. March 2010 rang in 4.97% for a 30 year conventional, fixed rate product compared to the 5% APY offered the same time last year.
Buyers are also encouraged that homes are becoming more affordable. In the past, many markets saw home prices steadily increase from month to month. However, this year March’s home prices rose by only 0.6% since March 2009—a considerable difference than the jumps seen in 2004 and 2005.
Nationwide, median existing single family home prices continue to hover at $170,000. The northeast leads the pack with the highest medium existing home values at $249,800, whereas the south offers plenty of deals with existing homes in the $154,800 range.
Although the news is optimistic, Reuters cautions that levels continue to be depressed following the historical housing market free fall. Homes continue to haunt the market, lingering an average of eight months before selling.
With April winding down and the homebuyer tax credit expiring at the strike of midnight, April 30th, economists wonder if April home buying showers will bring May sales flowers.
Reuters. "Existing Home Sales Rise More Than Expected in March." CNBC. 22 April 2010.
Rooney, Ben. "Hope Seen Despite Home Sales Downturn." CNN Money . 23 April 2009.
Molony, Walter. "Existing-Home Sales Rise on Home Buyer Tax Credit and Favorable Market Conditions." Realtor. 22 April 2010.
Bland, Melissa; de Costa, Pedro; Waitz, Nancy. "Existing home sales rose 6.8 percent in March." Reuters. 22 April 2010.