Existing-home sales grew for the second consecutive month in March, but lagging inventory levels and affordability constraints kept sales activity below year ago levels, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings in March eked forward despite challenging market conditions in most of the country. "Robust gains last month in the Northeast and Midwest – a reversal from the weather-impacted declines seen in February – helped overall sales activity rise to its strongest pace since last November at 5.72 million," said Yun. "The unwelcoming news is that while the healthy economy is generating sustained interest in buying a home this spring, sales are lagging year ago levels because supply is woefully low and home prices keep climbing above what some would-be buyers can afford."
The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in March was $250,400, up 5.8 percent from March 2017 ($236,600). March's price increase marks the 73rd straight month of year-over-year gains.
"Although the strong job market and recent tax cuts are boosting the incomes of many households, speedy price growth is squeezing overall affordability in several markets – especially those out West," said Yun.
Total housing inventory3 at the end of March climbed 5.7 percent to 1.67 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 7.2 percent lower than a year ago (1.80 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 34 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.6-month supply at the current sales pace (3.8 months a year ago).
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased for the sixth straight month to 4.44 percent in March (highest since 4.46 percent in December 2013) from 4.33 percent in February. The average commitment rate for all of 2017 was 3.99 percent.
Properties typically stayed on the market for 30 days in March, which is down from 37 days in February and 34 days a year ago. Fifty percent of homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month.
"Realtors® throughout the country are seeing the seasonal ramp-up in buyer demand this spring but without the commensurate increase in new listings coming onto the market," said Yun. "As a result, competition is swift and homes are going under contract in roughly a month, which is four days faster than last year and a remarkable 17 days faster than March 2016."
Realtor.com®'s Market Hotness Index, measuring time-on-the-market data and listings views per property, revealed that the hottest metro areas in March were San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.; Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Midland, Texas; and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.
First-time buyers were 30 percent of sales in March, which is up from 29 percent last month but down from 32 percent a year ago. NAR's 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 20174 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 34 percent.