The National Housing Market: Low Inventory, Higher Prices
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Every major region of the country saw existing-home sales climb in March. The large gains posted in the Northeast and Midwest helped sales climb 1.5 percent higher than a year ago. Buyers in these regions overcame inventory woes and affordability issues to make their home purchases. On the supply side, there were 1.98 million existing homes for sale at the end of March; at the current sales pace, this represents a 4.5-month supply. Inventory was 5.9 percent higher than a month ago but 1.5 percent lower than a year ago, when housing inventory stood at 2.01 million. This lack of inventory helped drive home prices up. In March, the median existing-home price for all housing types reached $222,700, a rise of 5.7 percent year over year. For the past 49 consecutive months, median prices have seen year-over-year gains, making home affordability a growing concern for buyers.
The Starter Market
First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of all buyers in March, a figure that is unchanged from both a month ago and a year ago. For all of 2015, the share of first-time buyers in the market was also at 30 percent. According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, "With rents steadily rising and average fixed rates well below 4 percent, qualified first-time buyers should be more active participants than what they are right now." Unfortunately, the same barriers to market entry that stymied first-time buyers in the past are still in place—affordability issues and low availability of starter homes on the market.
The Money-Making Market
Investors are another group who managed to maintain their share of the housing market. All-cash sales remained the same from February to March, accounting for 25 percent of all transactions, up 1 percent from a year ago. Individual investors are behind many of the all-cash sales; in March, 66 percent of them paid for their investments with cash. Of all the homes sold in March, 14 percent were purchased by individual investors, a 4 percent decline from a month ago but unchanged from a year ago.
Regional Home Sales
Northeast: Existing-home sales' annual rate: 700,000, an increase of 11.1 percent. Sales are 7.7 percent higher than March 2015.
Midwest: Existing-home sales' annual rate: 1.23 million, an increase of 9.8 percent. Sales are 0.8 percent higher than March 2015.
South: Existing-home sales' annual rate: 2.25 million, an increase of 2.7 percent. Sales are 2.3 percent higher than March 2015.
West: Existing-home sales' annual rate: 1.15 million, an increase of 1.8 percent. Sales are 2.5 percent lower than March 2015.