US home sales fell in March in tepid homebuying season start
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The spring homebuying season in the U.S. is off to a tepid start as buyers contend with sharply higher mortgage rates and near historic-low inventory of properties on the market.
Existing U.S. home sales fell 2.4% last month from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.44 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That’s below the 4.5 million home sales economists were expecting, according to FactSet.
Sales slumped 22% compared with March last year. The annual drop was steepest in markets across the Western part of the country, where sales sank more than 30% from a year ago.
The national median home price slipped 0.9% from March last year to $375,700, the NAR said. That’s the biggest annual median home price drop since January 2012.
While the drop in prices is good news for buyers after years of soaring home values, a stubbornly low inventory of properties for sale continues to drive bidding wars in many markets, especially for the most affordable homes.
Some 28% of homes purchased last month sold for more than their list price, said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist.
The U.S. housing market has been slow to regain its footing this year after posting its deepest slump in nearly a decade last year. Homebuyers continue to grapple with sharply higher mortgage rates, which can add hundreds of a dollars a month in costs, on top of home prices that have only come down slightly recently after soaring in recent years.
While more homes traditionally hit the market during the spring homebuying season, the number of properties for sale remains near historic lows at under 1 million, limiting options for would-be buyers.
Some 980,000 homes were on the market by the end of March, the NAR said. That’s an increase of 1% from February and 5.4% from March last year. Even so, that amounts to a 2.6-month supply at the current sales pace. In a more balanced market between buyers and sellers, there is a 5- to 6-month supply.
The inventory of homes for sale has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Last month’s inventory was down 41% from March 2019, when there were 1.7 million homes on the market.
The uptick in homes for sale in March reflects properties sitting on the market longer. The number of homes listed for sale for the first time in March was down 17% from a year earlier, Yun said.