Sales of existing homes inched forward in April, compared to March, as the increasingly resilient housing market continues to make headway, in small-to-modest increments.
Specifically, sales increased by 0.6% in the latest month, edging up to an annualized rate of 4.97 million homes. That was nominally ahead of the upwardly revised 4.94 million unit total for March. Initially, the March total had been estimated at 4.92 million homes. Expectations for April were met, as there had been a consensus forecast of 4.97 million homes sold.
Importantly, sales remain below underlying demand, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the trade group issuing such data, because of limited inventory and tight credit. Meantime, all four regions of the country, the East, the Midwest, the South, and the West reported strong price gains from a year ago. Also, resale activity jumped from a year earlier, gaining almost 10% from last year's estimated 4.53 unit level.
As to comments from the NAR, the group's chief economist, Lawrence Yun, noted that the market is recovering nicely, commenting that ``the robust housing market recovery is occurring in spite of tight access to credit and limited inventory. Without these frictions, existing-home sales easily would be well above the 5-million unit pace.'' He went on to note that buyer traffic is up just over 30% from a year earlier, while sales are ahead by less than 10%.
At the same time, in spite of these impediments, existing home sales are at their highest level since November of 2009, when such sales were at an annual rate of 5.44 million homes, having spiked up that month as a result of the short-lived homebuyer tax credit. In all, sales now have been up on a year-over-year basis for 22 months, while prices have been higher by that same calculation for 14 months in a row.
Finally, inventories at the end of April were up almost 12% from March. This equates to an average 5.2-month supply of unsold homes. In March, the total was 4.7 months. The better pricing structure is clearly inviting more sellers into the market. Still, the latest 5.2-month supply is below the six-month level that is considered normal. A year ago, inventories were still at a 6.6-month supply. All in all, this must be considered an encouraging report, especially given the better pricing and the solid underlying demand.