National Association of Realtors Report Fourth Quarter Home Prices Strongest in Seven Years
A growing number of metropolitan areas had higher median home prices in the fourth quarter, with the national price showing the strongest year-over-year increase in seven years, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors®. A companion report shows record high housing affordability conditions for metro areas in 2012.
The median existing single-family home price rose in 133 out of 152 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) based on closings in the fourth quarter compared with same quarter in 2011, while 19 areas had price declines. In the third quarter 120 areas showed increases from a year earlier, while in the fourth quarter of 2011 only 29 metros were up.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said all the conditions for strong price growth are at play. "Home sales are on a sustained uptrend, mortgage interest rates are hovering near record lows and unsold inventory is at the lowest level in 12 years," he said. "Home sales are being fueled by a pent-up demand and job creation, along with still favorable affordability conditions and rents rising at faster rates. Our population has been growing faster than overall housing stock, so supply and demand dynamics are very much at play." Yun added that more housing construction is needed to relieve some of the pressure in the market and keep home prices from overheating.
The national median existing single-family home price was $178,900 in the fourth quarter, up 10.0 percent from $162,600 in the fourth quarter of 2011, which is the strongest year-over-year price increase since the fourth quarter of 2005 when the median price jumped 13.6 percent. In the third quarter the price rose 8.8 percent from a year earlier.
The median price is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions.
A shrinking market share of lower priced homes continues to account for some of the price growth. Distressed homes - foreclosures and short sales generally sold at deep discounts - accounted for 23 percent of fourth quarter sales, down from 30 percent a year ago.
Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, rose 5.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.90 million in the fourth quarter from 4.66 million in the third quarter, and were 12.1 percent above the 4.37 million pace during the fourth quarter of 2011. Sales in the last quarter were at the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2009 when they reached 4.95 million.
At the end of the fourth quarter there were 1.82 million existing homes available for sale, which is 21.6 percent below the close of the fourth quarter of 2011 when 2.32 million homes were on the market. Unsold inventory is at the lowest level since January 2001 when there were 1.78 million homes for sale.
According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged a record low 3.36 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 3.54 percent in the third quarter and 4.01 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.