Existing home sales dipped 4.6% in December from November after three consecutive months of gains, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). But it’s not all bad news as the trade group explains that overall sales for the year were actually up 8.5% from 2020, and hit the highest annual level since 2006.
Weather typically pulls sales down in December, but what is interesting in this most recent data is that inventory levels hit an all-time low since reporting began in 1999. The pressure on the market from tight inventory of unsold existing homes has plagued the market in recent years as NAR has continued to emphasize.
“December saw sales retreat, but the pull back was more a sign of supply constraints than an indication of a weakened demand for housing,” said Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Sales for the entire year finished strong, reaching the highest annual level since 2006.”
Dr. Yun expects existing home sales will continue to slow a bit, given rising mortgage rates, but indicates that employment gains in a tight labor market, and increasingly strict underwriting standards insure sales levels are not in danger of crashing.
“This year, consumers should prepare to endure some increases in mortgage rates,” Dr. Yun cautioned. “I also expect home prices to grow more moderately by 3% to 5% in 2022, and then similarly in 2023 as more supply reaches the market.”
As inventory levels tighten even more, Dr. Yun warns that although homebuilders are increasing supply, “but reversing gaps like the ones we’ve seen recently will take years to correct.”
He’s bullish on home sales and employment gains, but is not exactly observing an overly glowing picture of the market, given the lingering crisis with lagging housing starts.
Home sales fell in all regions (1.3% in the Northeast and Midwest, 6.3% in the South, and 6.8% in the West), and prices rose rose in all ares (up 8.4% annually in the West, 6.3% in the Northeast, 10% in the Midwest, and a whopping 20.2% in the South).
“We wrapped up the year witnessing home sales exceed the previous year’s total and saw millions of families secure housing,” said NAR President Leslie Rouda Smith, a Realtor® from Plano, Texas, and a broker associate at Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate in Dallas. “I think the positive momentum will continue as the market prepares to finally see more supply in the coming months, meaning more buyers will be able to land their dream home.”