April 20, 2012 (Chris Moore)

Completed transactions of existing home purchases fell for the third time in the last four months in March but still remained above last year’s levels while home prices continued to show improvement according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

Monthly existing home sales, which include single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and co-ops, fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.48 million in March, down from a revised 4.60 million in February, a decline of 2.6 percent. Sales were still 5.2 percent higher than the seasonally adjusted 4.26 million completed transactions in March 2011. It was the ninth consecutive month that year-over-year home sales have increased.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of NAR, stated, “The recovery is happening though not at a breakout pace, but we have seen nine consecutive months of year-over-year sales increases. Existing-home sales are moving up and down in a fairly narrow range that is well above the level of activity during the first half of last year. With job growth, low interest rates, bargain home prices and an improving economy, the pent-up demand is coming to market and we expect housing to be notably better this year.”

Regional Home Sales:

Monthly existing home sales in the Northeast declined 1.7 percent to an annual rate of 580,000 sales but were still 5.5 percent higher than in March of last year, while in the Midwest, sales were unchanged from the previous month, selling at a rate of 1.02 million annual sales, and were 15.9 percent higher than last year’s sales pace.

In the South, monthly existing home sales fell 1.1 percent in March at an annual pace of 1.75 million transactions and were 3.6 percent above March 2011’s levels, and in the West, transactions for the month fell 7.4 percent to an annual rate of 1.13 million sales and were 0.9 percent lower than last year’s sales pace.

Home Prices:

Home prices increased 2.5 percent as the national median existing home price increased from $156,600 in February to $163,800 in March. The median home price in March of last year was $159,600.

The median price in the Northeast was $228,300, which was 1.9 percent lower than a year ago, while the median price in the Midwest was $132,800, up 5.2 percent from March 2011.

In the South, the median price was $146,500, a gain of 6.2 percent from a year ago and in the West the median price was $198,300, up 1.6 percent from March of 2011.

Cash and Distressed Property Sales:

Distressed property sales accounted for 29 percent of all existing home sales in March, down from 34 percent in February and down from 40 percent in March of 2011. Foreclosure sales made up 18 percent of all existing home sales while short sales accounted for 11 percent of all existing sales.

Cash sales accounted for 32 percent of all sales in March, down from 33 percent in February, while investors jumped in and purchased 21 percent of the homes sold in March, down from 23 percent in February.

Housing Inventory:

The number of homes available for sale in March fell 1.3 percent to 2.37 million homes which represents a 6.3 month supply, down from a 6.4 months supply in February.

Tags: existing home sales, investors, distressed property sales, declining prices, low appraisals, cancelled contracts, median home price