Economy Watch: Existing Home Sales Down a Notch

Existing home sales took an unexpected monthly dip in February, down 0.9 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors on Wednesday.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Existing home sales took an unexpected monthly dip in February, down 0.9 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors on Wednesday. The annualized rate of 4.59 million units last month was, however, 8.8 percent higher than the 4.22 million-unit rate in February 2011.

Total housing inventory at the end of February (those listed for sale, see below) rose 4.3 percent to 2.43 million existing homes available, which represents a 6.4-month supply at the current sales pace by NAR reckoning, up from a six-month supply in January. Always an organization to look on the bright side, the NAR also pointed out that once upon a time–in July 2007, right at the end of a period in which everyone and his brother built a lot of houses—the unsold listed inventory was a record 4.04 million units.

The Realtors further said that national median existing-home price for all U.S. housing types was $156,600 in February, up 0.3 percent from February 2011. Distressed homes–foreclosures and short sales–accounted for 34 percent of February sales (20 percent were foreclosures and 14 percent were short sales), down a scosh from 35 percent in January and 39 percent in February 2011.

Shadow inventory stable but large: CoreLogic

And the housing reports just kept coming: CoreLogic said on Wednesday that the current (as of January 2012) residential shadow inventory was 1.6 million units, or a six months’ supply, about the same as reported in October 2011. On a year-over-year basis, shadow inventory was down from January 2011, when it stood at 1.8 million units, or eight months’ supply.

CoreLogic estimates the current stock of properties in the shadow inventory, also known as pending supply, by calculating the number of distressed properties not currently listed on MLSs that are seriously delinquent, in foreclosure and REO. Of the 1.6 million properties CoreLogic currently puts in the shadow inventory, some 800,000 units are seriously delinquent (3.1 months’ supply); 410,000 are in some stage of foreclosure (1.6-months’ supply) and 400,000 are already REO (1.6 months’ supply).

“Almost half of the shadow inventory is not yet in the foreclosure process,” Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, noted in a statement. “Shadow inventory also remains concentrated in states impacted by sharp price declines and states with long foreclosure timelines.”

A calmness in Europe?

On Tuesday, Ben Bernanke was lecturing to undergraduates. On Wednesday, he lectured to members of the House Oversight Committee, though they call it testimony. Who needed the enlightenment more? Hard to say, but in any case the chairman, along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, assured his listeners that the odds of the euro zone blowing up aren’t quite as much now as in recent months, which may be true until the next mini-panic from an unlikely corner of the continent.

Wall Street had a mixed day on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 45.57 points, or 0.35 percent, while the S&P 500 lost 0.19 percent. The Nasdaq eked out a gain of 0.04 percent.

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