The winter is mercifully over, but the housing market has yet to turn in notably better results. To wit, after coming in at a modest, but respectable, annualized rate of 4.60 million homes in February, this housing category had been expected to ease somewhat in March, with the general forecast being that such sales would have come in at 4.55 million units.
Encouragingly, this latest month's total came to 4.59 million homes, according to the National Association of Realtors, a major real estate trade group, a virtually unchanged reading on a consecutive-month basis. Still, this was the lowest monthly total since July of 2012 and, no doubt, reflected the uptick in borrowing rates since that time, the laggard impact of the winter's horrific weather, and the continued limited supply of available housing stock, with inventories still being just 5.2 months' supply at the present sales rate. That is up from recent months, but it is still comfortably below the six-month level that is considered to be typical for this critical industry.
Meanwhile, housing has been generally stable this year, with annualized sales totals for the first three months of 2014 being 4.62 million, 4.60 million, and 4.59 million homes, respectively. In March of 2013, by comparison, the nation had sold 4.96 million properties.
As to the various components in this broad category, sales of single-family homes held steady last month, at 4.04 million units, while sales of condos and co-ops edged lower by 1.8%. However, prices continued to climb, which attests to the underlying strength of this sector, notwithstanding the selective wrinkles we are still seeing. On point, the median price of a home sold last month was $198,500. In February, the price had been just $188,300. In March of last year, the median price of a housing sales was made at $184,000. Average prices, too, are climbing, although this is a less-useful metric given the distortions caused by some high-priced properties. Of note here, the average price of a sale last month was $246,800. In February, it had been $236,600. A year ago, the average prices was $233,100.
At the same time, sales of distressed homes continued to fall, which is another long-range positive sign for this market. Specifically, in March, such sales, which include foreclosures and short sales, totaled 14% of the aggregate market. That was down modestly from the 16% total noted the month before. During the trough of the housing cycle, the proportion of distressed sales had been above 30%.
Taken as a whole, this was a reassuring, if unexciting, report, with our sense being that such sales will perk up somewhat as the year progresses.
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.