Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Existing-Home Sales Ease in 1st Quarter

Existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, remained historically high in the first quarter but have experienced a downtrend since hitting a record in the third quarter of last year. Even so, 26 states showed increases in sales activity from a year ago, according to the Natioma; Association of Realtors®.

The latest report on total existing-home sales shows that the seasonally adjusted annual rate* was 6.80 million units in the first quarter, down 2.1 percent from the 6.94 million-unit level in the first quarter of 2005.

The biggest increase was in New Mexico, where existing-home sales rose 26.2 percent from the first quarter of 2005. Eight other states recorded double-digit sales increases from a year ago. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia experienced declines.

David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, said rising interest rates have dampened sales. “A steady rise in mortgage interest rates has slowed home sales in higher cost areas, yet job growth in some moderately priced markets is boosting sales in other areas,” he said. “The net effect is a modest decline in home sales for the nation as a whole, but sales remain historically strong and are providing a solid underlying base for the overall economy.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage was 6.24 percent in the first quarter, up from 6.22 percent in the fourth quarter; it was 5.76 percent in the first quarter of 2005.

NAR President Thomas M. Stevens from Vienna, Va., said the sales pattern is expected to level out. “We project home sales may soften a little further before picking up in the fourth quarter, but we’re not looking for any significant changes in the market moving forward,” said Stevens, senior vice president of NRT Inc. “This should provide stability in the market so that buyers and sellers will be on a fairly level playing field in most of the country.”

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