Hope seen, despite home sales downturn

Realtors say home resales fell 3% in March, but analysts point to signs of a stabilizing market.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
 
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all CNNMoney.com RSS FEEDS (close)
By Ben Rooney, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Photos
The Bust is a Boon
From California to D.C., falling home prices and cheaper mortgage rates are making dream homes possible.
Which money-losing Fortune 500 company is most likely to turn a profit this year?
  • GM
  • Citigroup
  • Macy's
  • Ford
Mortgage Rates
30 yr fixed 4.30%
15 yr fixed 3.30%
5/1 ARM 3.34%
30 yr refi 4.27%
15 yr refi 3.27%

Find personalized rates:
 

Rates provided by Bankrate.com.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Sales of existing homes fell in March, according to an industry report released Thursday, but analysts say the housing market is showing signs of stabilization.

The National Association of Realtors said that existing home sales fell last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million units, 3% lower than the downwardly revised rate of 4.71 million in February.

March sales were down 7.1% year over year, and came in weaker than the 4.65 million rate forecast by analysts surveyed by Briefing.com.

Despite last month's decline, existing home sales appear to be stabilizing, according to Ian Shepherdson, economist at High Frequency Economics.

"Sales are volatile month-to-month, but the trend appears to be flattening off," Shepherdson said in a research note.

Single family home sales, which are considered the core of the market, fell at a 10% annualized rate in the first quarter of 2009, after a 17.4% drop in the last three months of 2008. At the current sales pace, existing-home sales will be down "only" 2% in the second quarter, according to Shepherdson.

First-time buyers made up 53% of existing home sales in March. Charles McMillan, NAR's president, said first-time buyers are "crucial" to a recovery in the overall housing market.

"The housing market always heals from the bottom up, and with large numbers of first-time buyers entering the market it will become a little easier for sellers to trade up or down," McMillan said in a statement.

Meanwhile, sales of "distressed properties" accounted for over half of all transactions in March. Foreclosed homes typically sell for 20% less than traditional homes, according to NAR.

"Clearly foreclosure activity is driving the marketplace," said Adam York, an economist at Wachovia Economics Group, in a research report. "Buyers are clearly looking for 'bargains,' if they are looking at all."

Existing home sales in the West declined 4.2% in March. Sales in the South and the Northeast also fell, while sales in the Midwest were unchanged.

The national median existing-home price was $175,200 in March, up 4.2% from $168,200 in February. Still, the median existing-home price was down more than 12% since March 2008, when it was $200,100.

The total number of existing homes on the market at the end of March fell 1.6% to 3.74 million units. At the current sales pace, it would take an estimated 9.8 months to sell that inventory of properties. That's up slightly from 9.7 months in February and January.

"The inventory overhang has stabilized too," Shepherdson said. But the number of existing homes on the market remains historically high, and prices will continue to fall rapidly "for the foreseeable future," he said.  To top of page

Find mortgage rates in your area


Features
They're hiring!These Fortune 100 employers have at least 350 openings each. What are they looking for in a new hire? More
If the Fortune 500 were a country...It would be the world's second-biggest economy. See how big companies' sales stack up against GDP over the past decade. More
Sponsored By:
More Galleries
Best-loved cars in America These cars and trucks topped J.D. Power's APEAL survey, which measures how much owners like their new vehicles. More
America's most powerful cars A new 'horsepower war' has erupted among U.S. automakers and these are the most potent weapons in their arsenals. More
A sampling of beers being made with traditional Latin flavors A small but growing number of craft breweries are including passion fruit, Mexican cinnamon and other traditional Latin flavors. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.