After a small dip in November, existing home sales improved 3.6% in December with all regions but the Midwest experiencing growth, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Sales were up a whopping 10.8% compared to December 2018.
The median sales price in December was up 7.8%, hitting $274,500, growing in all regions and marking the 94th consecutive month of year-over-year increases. Good news for homeowners, but bad news for buyers, particularly first time buyers priced out of the market.
NAR’s Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun noted that price appreciation has accelerated and in areas of declining affordability, job growth is not keeping up with rising housing costs. “The hope is for price appreciation to slow in line with wage growth, which is about 3%,” Dr. Yun noted.
Further, as he has reiterated many times over the years, Dr. Yun notes that low inventory continues to plague the housing market. Total housing inventory at the end of December was 1.4 million units, down 8.5% for the year and 14.6% for the month as unsold inventory is at a three month supply at the current pace. This indicator is also problematic as unsold inventory totals have now fallen for the past seven months.
In December, first time buyers accounted for 31% of sales while individual investors were 17% of all sales. First time buyer levels are down slightly for the month and investors are a slightly larger share of the market.
In short, the market is showing some positive signs (sales levels, home values), but also negative signs (affordability rates, inventory levels). So what is in store for 2020?
Dr. Yun said buying conditions are actually favorable and will continue to be throughout the year. “We saw the year come to a close with the economy churning out 2.3 million jobs, mortgage rates below 4% and housing starts ramp up to 1.6 million on an annual basis,” he said.
“If these factors are sustained in 2020, we will see a notable pickup in home sales in 2020,” Dr. Yun concluded.
“NAR is expecting 2020 to be a great year for housing,” said NAR President Vince Malta, broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco, California. “Our leadership team is hard at work to secure policies that will keep our housing market moving in the right direction, like promoting infrastructure reform, strengthening fair housing protections and ensuring mortgage capital remains available to responsible, mortgage-ready Americans.”
Mortgage Bankers Association SVP and Chief Economist, Dr. Mike Fratantoni observed, “We expect that home sales will rise in 2020, as additional new housing construction has come onto the market, and the job market remains strong and mortgage rates are low.”
“Typically, the inventory of homes on the market drops at the end of the year,” noted Dr. Fratantoni. “However, the supply of existing homes is now at a record low, and this will constrain the pace of sales this spring from being even stronger. However, the recent gains in new home construction is a positive, as the total inventory on the market will allow prospective buyers to find properties.”