Existing home sales nationally were down in March but continue to outpace year-ago levels, while inventory tightened and home prices are showing further signs of stabilizing, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 2.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.48 million in March from an upwardly revised 4.60 million in February, but are 5.2 percent above the 4.26 million-unit pace in March 2011.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the recovery is in the process of settling into a higher level of home sales. “The recovery is happening though not at a breakout pace, but we have seen nine consecutive months of year-over-year sales increases,” he said. “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.”
Total housing inventory at the end of March declined 1.3 percent to 2.37 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.3-month supply at the current sales pace, the same as in February. Listed inventory is 21.8 percent below a year ago and well below the record of 4.04 million in July 2007.
“We were expecting a seasonal increase in home listings, but a lack of inventory has suddenly become an issue in several markets with not enough homes for sale in relation to buyer interest,” Yun said. “Home sales could be held back because of supply factors and not by demand—we’re already seeing this in the Western states and in South Florida.”
San Francisco Homes Selling Faster as Inventory Drops
With potential home sellers feeling that the market is on the upswing and that housing prices will soon appreciate, many of them have elected to hold off listing their homes, resulting in a citywide inventory shortage. At the same time, potential home buyers fearing higher prices are rushing to buy, particularly with the low-interest rate mortgages that are available today. These two forces are causing the already low for sale housing inventory in the city to be gobbled up at a faster rate. And, without new homes for sale to replace those that have been sold, the city’s inventory remains low, while home sales are staying high.
Single-Family Home Sales
Although the city’s inventory has dropped by 25.5 percent compared to February 2011, inventory levels also have ticked slightly upwards since January of this year, by 7.7 percent. And, despite the low inventory, homes under contract showed improvement compared to the same time last year, rising by as much as 22.9 percent. Moreover, the number of homes sold has almost doubled, by 40.7 percent, with a tally of 173 properties.
For homes that were priced below $700,000, the months of supply inventory fell by 66.2 percent to 1.2 months. For higher priced homes between $700,000 and $1.2 million, the months of supply inventory fell by 30.4 percent to 1.6 months. These short time frames continue to indicate a seller’s market, where sellers have more leveraging power over buyers who are competing against a limited group of properties.
One part of the city which experienced an above average increase in sale activity is the Sunset district. Since February 2011, the number of homes under contract has risen by 11.4 percent, while the number of homes sold has jumped by 52.4 percent to a total of 32 properties. The Sunset district, a predominately residential area, rests on the central-west side of the city. With good schools and plenty of family-owned businesses, home buyers seeking a more conservative and small town approach to living would find the Sunset district ideal.
Another area of the city which saw notably positive real estate activity is the central-eastern section. Compared to the same time last year, the number of homes under contract in the section increased by 4.8 percent, while the number of homes sold spiked by 157.1 percent, to a total of 18 properties. Although generally associated with the condominium markets of the South of Market (SOMA) and South Beach areas, the central-eastern section also includes neighborhoods such as Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill, which offer an assortment of cottages, bungalows, and single-family homes in a very friendly, community type setting. Home buyers who yearn to be close to the city, but who also desire amenities such as a small garden or yard, would find solace here.
Similar to single-family homes, the number of condominiums for sale throughout the city also has lessened by 33.6 percent since February 2011. Still, in spite of the low inventory, the number of condominiums under contract rose by 17 percent this past month, while the number of condominiums sold remained relatively the same, dropping only by 1.2 percent.
For condominiums that were priced between $500,000 and $900,000, the months of supply inventory shrank by 51.9 percent to a reading of 1.4 months. For luxury condominiums priced above $900,000, the months of supply inventory also decreased, by 28.9 percent to 2.5 months.
One region of the city which continues to experience strong condominium sales activity is Downtown San Francisco. Compared to this time last year, the number of condominiums under contract rose by 9.3 percent, while the number of condominiums sold shot up by 50 percent to a total of 42 units. Quintessential San Francisco neighborhoods such as Nob Hill and Russian Hill offer some of the most stunning and luxurious condominiums in the city. Those seeking to take an elevator up to their home and views worthy of magazine covers will find just what they’re looking for in Downtown San Francisco.
Nationally, the consumer confidence index, which had decreased in January, increased in February. The index now stands at 70.8, up from 61.5 in January. (A reading of 90 indicates a healthy economy.) Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, says, “Looking ahead, consumers are considerably less pessimistic about current business and labor market conditions than they were in January. And, despite further increases in gas prices, they are more optimistic about the short-term outlook for the economy, job prospects, and their financial situation.”
Based on the preliminary unemployment rates from the California Employment Development Department, the statewide and local job outlook is showing continued improvement, with the State’s unemployment rate dropping in January to 10.0 percent from 11.2 in December. Overall unemployment throughout the Bay Area also was down, with San Francisco seeing its unemployment rate decline from 9.5 percent last year to 8.1 percent this past January.
Earlier this month, the Federal Housing Administration announced that it would slash mortgage insurance premiums for certain home owners who refinance an FHA loan into a new one under its streamlined program. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The administration estimates that 2 to 3 million homeowners could be eligible to refinance under the reduced fees. But in the Bay Area, FHA loans were relatively rare until March 2008, when FHA raised its loan limit in high-cost areas to $729,750.
The San Francisco real estate market is likely to experience the same trend of low inventory and high sales in the next few weeks as home prices are expected to go up. When they do, San Francisco should begin to see a greater inventory of homes hitting the market.
In laymen’s terms…it’s a good time to sell!