The news this week continues to be mixed in this fixer-upper of a housing market. February existing home sales fell 0.9 percent to a seasonably adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.
Analysts consider existing home sales of six million to be the benchmark of a healthy market.
Existing home sales are 8.8 percent higher than what they were in February of 2011, the NAR report said. “The market is trending up unevenly, with record high consumer buying power and sustained job gains giving buyers the confidence they need to get into the market,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. “Although relatively unusual, there will be rising demand for both rental space and homeownership this year. Pent-up demand could burst forth from the improving economy.”
Sales were up in the Midwest and South, but down in the Northeast and West. Sales among first-time buyers, dipped slightly from 33 percent of all purchases in January to 32 percent. In a healthy housing market, they comprise about 40 percent.
The national median price for existing homes for all housing types ws $156,600 in February, up 0.3 percent from the same period the year before. More than a third (34 percent) of February sales were foreclosures and short sales, down from 39 percent a year ago.
The Commerce Department announced on Tuesday that new building permits jumped a better than expected 5.1 percent to their highest level since 2008. This followed news on Monday that housing starts dipped 1.1 percent, but are still nearly 38 percent over the February 2011 rate. Housing starts were pulled down by a 9.9 percent drop in single-family home construction, which represents about 70 percent of home construction. Multi-family housing, though, is on the rise (21 percent), driven by a demand by discouraged homeowners for rental apartments.
Also on Monday, a National Association of Home Builders survey reported that overall builder confidence remains at a five-year high. Unseasonably warm weather, allowing for construction to get an early start, should also lift spirits.
On Thursday, the Federal Housing Finance authority will release its monthly House Price Index, to be followed on Friday by the release of the Commerce Department’s monthly New Home Sales report. Last month’s sales of new single-family homes fell 0.9 percent from December to January, but were 3.5 percent higher than January of 2011.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.