Home Prices and Sales Increase in December
By Burt Carey
Home sales and prices in the U.S. recovered in December following November sales that had analysts concerned about a possible slowing economy.
The National Association of Realtors reported a 14.7 percent jump in existing home sales in December, putting the country on pace to see 5.46 million homes sold in 2015. Just a month earlier, the NAR had reported a serious decline in November sales that had reduced the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales to land around the 4.76 million mark.
A nationwide snapshot of home values indicate that the market has nearly recovered to numbers similar to July 2006 levels, before the housing bubble burst and led to a years-long recession.
Metropolitan areas such as Denver, San Francisco, Dallas and Portland, Ore., reported sales that either matched or exceeded previous all-time highs. Charlotte, N.C., is close behind.
Housing sales ticked up in part because buyers in December rushed to take advantage of low mortgage rates before the Federal Reserve raised the prime rate one-quarter of a percent, its first such increase in a decade. Sales surged also because of unseasonably warm weather.
“We knew a significant number of closings were delayed by new regulations that came into effect in October,” said Stephen Phillips, president of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Chicago. “Overall, 2015 was a very good year and we’re positioned for a strong spring market.”
In November realtors had blamed increased closing times on new regulations that were designed to assist home buyers better understand home loan options and provide them better opportunities to look for loans that best match their financial status.
Sales of existing homes jumped 6.5 percent in 2015 over 2014 numbers, with 5.26 million homes sold, according to the NAR. That’s the strongest sales performance since 2006. While more Americans were able to find work this past year and mortgage rates remained low, the overall number of houses on the market remains low, down some 3.8 percent from 2014 levels. The .
“The dearth of inventory has really taken its toll on the market,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin, a brokerage firm. “Homebuyers this year are motivated but not desperate, and they refuse to overpay. Without more listings what we’ll see are higher prices and lower sales volumes ‑- a lousy way to start a new year for homebuyers.”
Fortunately, mortgage rates have remained at historically low levels. Freddie Mac reported the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.81 percent last week, which was down slightly from the 3.92 percent a week earlier.