Total existing-home sales declined 1.0% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million in December from a downwardly revised 4.99 million in November, according to the National Association of Realtors. They are 12.8% above the 4.38 million-unit level in December 2011.
The preliminary annual total for existing-home sales in 2012 was 4.65 million, up 9.2% from 4.26 million in 2011. It was the highest volume since 2007 when it reached 5.03 million.
"Record low mortgage interest rates clearly are helping many home buyers, but tight inventory and restrictive mortgage underwriting standards are limiting sales," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "The number of potential buyers who stayed on the sidelines accumulated during the recession, but they started entering the market early last year as their financial ability and confidence steadily grew, along with home prices. Likely job creation and household formation will continue to fuel that growth. Both sales and prices will again be higher in 2013."
Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 8.5% to 1.82 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.4-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.8 months in November.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 3.2% to an annual rate of 640,000 in December and are 10.3% above December 2011. Existing-home sales in the Midwest fell 5.9% in December to a pace of 1.12 million but are 15.5% higher than a year ago. In the South, existing-home sales declined 3.0% to an annual level of 1.95 million in December but are 14.7% above December 2011. Existing-home sales in the West rose 5.1% to a pace of 1.23 million in December and are 8.8% higher than a year ago.