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Existing-Home Sales Fall In March – Bankrate.com

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Key takeaways

  • Existing-home sales in March 2024 fell 4.3 percent from February and are off 3.7 percent from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.
  • The nationwide median sale price was $393,500, up 4.8 percent from March 2023 and a record high for the month of March.
  • Inventory in March rose to a 3.2-month supply, a level considered a seller’s market.

The housing market showed a slowdown in sales but a rise in prices in March, a new report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows. Sales of existing homes fell, and more listings hit the market. After dipping below 4 million in recent months, the annual pace of home sales spiked to 4.38 million in February. But in March, that pace slowed to an annual rate of 4.19 million units.

“Home sales are essentially stuck,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun told reporters.

He blamed the combination of still-high mortgage rates and not enough inventory. While mortgage rates remain below the 8 percent mark briefly seen in October 2023, they are trending back up. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate loan was 7.33 percent as of April 17, according to Bankrate’s most recent survey of large lenders. That, combined with stubbornly high prices, means affordability challenges remain daunting for homebuyers. However, in a bit of good news, the share of first-time homebuyers jumped to 32 percent in March, up from 26 percent in February.

The fate of the housing market in the coming months will be dictated in part by the direction of mortgage rates.
— Mark Hamrick, Bankrate Senior Economic Analyst

“The fate of the housing market in the coming months will be dictated in part by the direction of mortgage rates, as well as the health of the broader economy,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst. “The market could benefit from a combination of tailwinds, if they were to develop and are sustained.”

Existing-home sales tick upward

The count of existing-home sales includes all completed resales, including single-family houses, condos, townhouses and co-ops. According to NAR, the number of sales nationally fell 4.3 percent month over month to an annual pace of 4.19 million transactions in March 2024. It’s a decrease of 3.7 percent from a year earlier.

Regionally, sales in the West fell the most in March, down 8.2 percent from a month ago and off 3.7 percent from a year ago. In the South, sales 5.9 percent for the month and declined 5 percent for the year. In the Northeast, sales rose 4.2 percent for the month but were down 3.8 percent year over year, while sales in the Midwest dipped 1.9 percent monthly and decreased 1 percent annually.

Days on market

Properties typically remained on the market for 33 days in March, down from 38 days in February. In March 2023, that figure was 29 days. Selling times are a crucial measure at any time of year, but especially during the spring selling season.

Home prices rise for ninth consecutive month

The nationwide median sale price for existing homes in March clocked in at $393,500, up 5.7 percent from last year and the ninth month in a row to record year-over-year increases. This was the highest-priced March on record, according to NAR. An elevated share of cash deals — 28 percent, as compared to 27 percent a year ago — indicated a market propelled by record-high housing wealth.

Home sales are essentially stuck.
— Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist, National Association of Realtors

In June 2022, the median price hit its highest-ever recorded price at $413,800. The U.S. housing market had been on a remarkable run of 131 consecutive months of year-over-year median sale price increases — the longest-running streak since NAR started keeping records — before finally dropping year-over-year in February 2023.

All four geographic regions experienced annual price increases in March. The West continued to have the highest median price by far at $603,000, up 6.7 percent from a year ago. In the Northeast, the median rose 9.9 percent from a year ago to $434,600. The South’s median price rose 3.4 percent to $359,100, and the Midwest’s median rose 7.5 percent to $292,400.

Housing inventory remains low

Total housing inventory — the overall number of homes on the market for sale — stood at 1.11 million units at the end of March. That’s an improvement, up 4.7 percent from February and 14.4 percent from a year ago. Even so, it represents only a 3.2-month supply, which is still well short of the five to six months typically required for a healthier, more balanced market.

“We are still in a very tight market, despite that increase,” Yun said. “We need more inventory, definitely, for the health of the market.”

The sharp rise in mortgage rates seen this past fall has kept many homeowners from selling, which keeps existing homes off the market. Those who locked in rates at 3 percent several years ago, understandably, are not keen on moving with current rates more than double that.

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