Home Sales Decline Slightly

Sales of existing homes fell slightly in February for the third month in a row, according to the National Association of Realtors. The drop was only 0.6 percent nationally to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.02-million units.

For Sale Sign

The decline in home sales demonstrates the slowdown in the housing market persists, despite government programs to re-ignite the market. However, home sales are still higher for the year compared to last year by 7%. A series of programs started by the Obama administration have boosted sales, including tax credits for first time and move-up buyers.

The inventory of homes rose 9.5% to 3.59-million properties listed by real estate agents, but does not include for sale by owner properties or other homes marketed for sale as foreclosures by companies unrelated to the Realtors trade group. The growing inventory is blamed partially at least on the increase of foreclosure properties beginning to hit the market as bank servicing companies ramp up the pace at which they are foreclosing on homes.

The median price for a home was $165,000 in February, 1.8% below year ago prices. Foreclosures and short sales composed 35% of all Realtor sales during the month as first time buyers purchased 42% of all properties in the month.

In the Northeast sales rose 2.4% at a pace of 840,000 existing units and are 12% above last year. Lower home prices on troubled properties contributed to an increase in the median price of 7.5%. However, the median price of Midwest homes is still 2% lower than year ago levels even though sales increased marginally at 2.8%.

In the Southern region of the country, sales slipped 1.1% but are still above year ago levels. The median price is $139,600, which is 4.2% less on the median price of a home.

Sales in the West were down 4.7% at an annual rate of 1.22-million properties in February. A lack of more affordable homes, particularly in California, where prices are still more than 50% below the markets peak on average sent the median price 9.8% lower for the one year period at $207,900.