Existing Home Sales Jump, Home Prices Rise More than Expected

By Paul Ausick

We have two data points on the U.S. housing market this morning. The National Association of Realtors reports that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of existing home sales in November rose 5.9 percent to 5.04 million from a downwardly revised total of 4.76 million in October. Sales are up 14.5 percent year-over-year for the month and at the highest level since a spike to 5.44 million in November 2009.

The NAR's chief economist said:

"Momentum continues to build in the housing market from growing jobs and a bursting out of household formation. With lower rental vacancy rates and rising rents, combined with still historically favorable affordability conditions, more people are buying homes."

Today's second data point is the Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) housing price index for October, which rose 0.5 percent, compared with a downwardly revised report of a flat index in September. The consensus estimate at Bloomberg called for a rise of 0.3 percent.

The FHFA reports that U.S. prices have risen 5.6 percent for the 12 months ending in October, but remains 15.7 percent below the peak reached in April 2007.

According to the NAR, the national median existing home price in November was $180,600, up 10.1 percent compared with November 2011 and the ninth consecutive month to see a price gain.

Foreclosed and short sales accounted for 22 percent of November sales, down from 24 percent in October and 29 percent in November 2011. Foreclosures sold at a 20 percent discount to the November median price, while short sales sold at a discount of 16 percent. The NAR expects distressed sales to fall in the teens next year as the number of seriously delinquent loans diminishes.

Housing inventory at the end of November fell by 3.8 percent to 2.03 million and is at its lowest level since September 2005. Lack of supply continues to constrain sales, but combined with the FHFA price data adds up to a housing-led economic recovery -- although a modest one.

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