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Existing-home sales fall again in March

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), sales of existing homes fell another 2 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million units from 5.03 million units last month. That number is 19.3 percent below the 6.11 million-unit pace of March 2007, according to the trade group.

Arise in condo sales in March was offset by a drop in single-family sales. Regionally, sales rose in the Northeast and West but fell in the Midwest and South.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the market is performing “unevenly.”

“Though mortgage rates are at historically low levels, some borrowers are facing restrictive lending practices in declining markets,” he said. “At the same time, many buyers continue to bide their time with a large number of homes to choose from, while other potential buyers remain on the sidelines.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $200,700 in March, down 7.7 percent from a year ago when the median was $217,400. Because the slowdown in sales from a year ago is greater in high-cost areas, there is a downward pull to the national median with relatively higher sales activity in low-cost markets.

Amix of market conditions continues around the country, but areas still showing price gains include Des Moines, Iowa; Austin, Texas; and Durham, N.C.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 5.97 percent in March from 5.92 percent in February; the rate was 6.16 percent in March 2007.

Total housing inventory rose 1 percent at the end of March to 4.06 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.9-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 9.6-month supply in February.

Single-family home sales fell 2.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.35 million in March from 4.47 million in February, and are 18.4 percent below the 5.33 million-unit pace in March 2007. The median existing single-family home price was $198,200 in March, down 8.3 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales rose 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 580,000 units in March from 560,000 in February, but are 25.5 percent below the 779,000-unit level a year ago. The median existing condo price was $219,400 in March, which is 2.8 percent lower than March 2007.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 2.2 percent to an annual pace of 910,000 in March, but are 18.8 percent below March 2007. The median price in the Northeast was $284,300, up 4.6 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West rose 2.2 percent in March to a level of 940,000 but are 22.3 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $285,100, which is 14.7 percent lower than March 2007.

In the South, existing-home sales fell 3.5 percent to an annual rate of 1.92 million in March and are 20.0 percent below March 2007. The median price in the South was $167,200, down 7.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest dropped 6.5 percent to an annual rate of 1.16 million in March, and are 15.9 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $152,600, down 5.3 percent from March 2007.