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Existing Home Sales Slide to Cap Biggest Annual Drop Since 2008

January 20, 2023

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Sales of previously owned homes fell for 11th straight month. Transactions declined in three of four regions in December.

Sales of previously owned US homes fell in December to the slowest pace in over a decade, capping one of the housing market’s worst years on record amid a rapid jump in mortgage rates.

Contract closings decreased 1.5% to an annualized pace of 4.02 million last month, the slowest rate since 2010, the according to data from the National Association of Realtors out Friday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for sales to drop to 3.95 million.

The figures wrap a tumultuous year for the housing sector, in which transactions fell for a record 11 straight months. For all of last year, slightly more than 5 million existing homes were sold — a drop of 17.8% from 2021, the biggest annual slide since 2008.

The Federal Reserve’s most aggressive tightening campaign in a generation sent mortgage rates soaring in 2022 to the highest level in two decades, sidelining many prospective buyers.

While borrowing costs have come off their peak in recent weeks, helping to boost builder sentiment, the outlook is still shaky. Separate data out this week showed new home construction declined in 2022 for the first time since 2009 while applications to build, a proxy for future construction, also fell in December.

“December was another difficult month for buyers, who continue to face limited inventory and high mortgage rates,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “However, expect sales to pick up again soon since mortgage rates have markedly declined after peaking late last year.”

The number of homes available for sale fell to 970,000 in the month, the fewest since March. It would take 2.9 months to sell all the homes on the market, up from 1.7 a year earlier. Realtors see anything below five months of supply as indicative of a tight market.

The median selling price was up 2.3% from a year earlier to $366,900, reflecting higher prices in all regions. The price gain was the smallest since May 2020, Yun said.

Properties remained on the market 26 days in December compared with 24 days in November and 19 days at the end of 2021. Some 57% of homes sold were on the market for less than a month.

Digging Deeper
  • Sales fell in three of four regions, while the West was unchanged from the prior month

  • First-time buyers made up 31% of purchases in December, up from November

  • Cash sales represented 28% of total sales. Investors, who often purchase with cash and are therefore less sensitive to mortgage rates, made up 16% of the market, up from the prior month

  • Sales of single-family homes dropped 1.1% from a month earlier to a 3.6 million pace, also the lowest since the end of 2010. Existing condominium and co-op sales were down 4.5%

  • Existing-home sales account for about 90% of US housing and are calculated when a contract closes. New-home sales, which make up the remainder, are based on contract signings, and will be released next week

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