Latest sales data shows gains that won’t last

by Meg White

The National Association of Realtors released its latest existing-home sales data today, and while the news is good, the story it tells is one of a healthy housing market not yet impacted by COVID-19 fears.

From the National Association of Realtors’ February 2020 existing-home sales report

Existing-home sales rebounded by 6.5% from last month and they’re up 7.2% from this time last year. The figure, which counts completed sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, marked its strongest level since February 2007, according to NAR, and is attributable to both pent-up demand and low interest rates.

Though this is the eighth straight month where sales saw a significant increase year over year, February is expected to be the last in that run due to the current slowdown caused by fears of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These figures show that housing was on a positive trajectory, but the coronavirus has undoubtedly slowed buyer traffic, and it is difficult to predict what short-term effects the pandemic will have on future sales,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said in a press release accompanying the data. “Once the social-distancing and quarantine measures are relaxed, we should see this temporary pause evaporate, and will have potential buyers return with the same enthusiasm.”

The South outpaced national gains with a 7.2% increase in sales over last month and a 8.2% year-over-year gain. The Northeast was the only region to see a decline in existing-home sales. But housing costs were up across every region; the median home price was up 8.2% in the South over last year to $238,000.

Nationally, the median price for existing homes increased 8% over last year to $270,100. Despite the uncertainty about activity, Yun predicted this monetary figure will hold relatively steady. “Unlike the stock market, home prices are not expected to drop because of the ongoing housing shortage and due to homes getting delisted during this time of crisis,” he said.

In terms of what was available for sale in February, national inventory did rise 5% over last month, but it was down 9.8% from a year ago at this time. Sales happened more quickly than they did at this time last year, with a typical property remaining on the market just 36 days last month, as opposed to the 44 days on market figure in February 2019.

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