Home sales reached their highest pace in a decade in the first quarter of 2017 as property prices continue to escalate, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ latest quarterly report.
The median price of an existing single-family home nationally was $232,100 in the first quarter, up 6.9 percent from the same time period a year ago. Home prices rose year over year in 85 percent of the 178 metro areas analyzed.
The continued inventory shortages prompted home-price appreciation to quicken its pace in the first quarter, says NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.
“Prospective buyers poured into the market to start the year, and while the increased presence led to a boost in sales, new listings failed to keep up and hovered around record lows all quarter,” Yun says. “Those able to successfully buy most likely had to outbid others—especially for those in the starter-home market—which in turn quickened price growth to the fastest quarterly pace in almost two years.”
Thirty metros saw double-digit price increases in the first quarter, NAR’s report shows. “Several metro areas with the healthiest job gains in recent years continue to see a large upswing in buyer demand but lack the commensurate ramp in new-home construction,” Yun says. “This is why many of these areas—in particular several parts of the South and West—are seeing unhealthy price appreciation that far exceeds incomes.”
The Commerce Department also reported Tuesday that overall home construction fell from March to April, with housing starts declining 2.6 percent month-over-month. This could have a broader impact on the economy, Yun adds. “With housing starts declining in April, inventory shortages will continue for a longer period of time. The intensifying housing shortage will push up home prices and rents, and easily above wage growth and the broad consumer price inflation. This continued, slow pace of construction of new homes is a major bottleneck to a faster economic and housing recovery.”
Affordability weakened slightly nationwide in the first quarter, despite a rise in the national family median income to $71,201. Higher mortgage rates and home prices softened affordability compared to a year ago, NAR reports. To buy at the national median price, a buyer making a 5 percent down payment would need an income of $52,251; a buyer with a 10 percent down payment would need to earn $49,501; and a buyer with a 20 percent down payment would need to earn $44,001, according to NAR.
Total existing-home sales in the first quarter, including single-family homes and condos, rose 1.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.62 million. That is the highest since the first quarter of 2007, when it stood at 5.66 million sales.
“Last quarter’s robust pace of sales was especially impressive considering the affordability sting buyers experienced from higher prices and mortgage rates,” Yun says. “High demand is poised to continue heading into the summer as long as job gains continue. However, many metro areas need to see a significant rise in new and existing inventory to meet this demand and cool down price growth.”
At the end of the first quarter, 1.83 million existing homes were available for sale—6.6 percent below inventory levels of a year ago. The average supply during the first quarter was 3.7 months, NAR reports.