Condo Sales Rise Since Last January: NAR

Sales of existing condominiums and co-ops slid 8.1 percent to an annualized rate of 620,000 in January, according to the National Association of Realtors, down from 675,000 in December.

Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Washington, D.C.–Sales of existing condominiums and co-ops slid 8.1 percent to an annualized rate of 620,000 in January, according to the National Association of Realtors, down from 675,000 in December. The January 2010 figure, however, represents a 38.1 percent increase from January 2009, when there were only 449,000 condo/co-op sales nationwide. The median price of an existing condo/co-op in January 2010 was $172,400, a 1.4 percent increase from the same month in 2009, according to the NAR.

As usual, the nationwide statistics mask a number of regional differences. The month-over-month drop in sales was more pronounced in the Northeast, where it was 14.1 percent, while the South and Midwest dropped 8.6 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. The West, by contrast with the rest of the country, actually saw an uptick of 2.6 percent in condo sales between December ’09 and January ’10.

Compared with January 2009, however, all U.S. regions recorded dramatic sales increases, notes NAR. The South turned in a 52.5 percent increase in condo sales, while the other regions each saw more than a 30 percent increase.

In terms of pricing, the national average might be higher than a year ago, but not so in some regions. Between last January and this January, condo prices dipped 13.8 percent in the South – which might help account for that region’s jump in sales over the same period. Prices also slipped in the West (down 7.7 percent), but rose in the Northeast (up 8 percent) and the Midwest (up 3.7 percent).

Condo/co-op inventory is lower than it used to be as well, according to NAR. As of January 2010, the inventory was 465,000 units, or a nine months’ supply. A year ago, the total was 491,000 units, or a 13.4 months’ supply.

The condo market numbers come within the context of a broader NAR report about conditions in U.S. residential housing. Total residential sales dropped 7.2 percent between December 2009 and January 2010 to an annualized rate of 5.05 million, but rose year-over-year by 11.5 percent in January 2010. Prices on average have been unchanged since January 2009.

“Activity should be picking up strongly in late spring as buyers take advantage of the tax credit, which is critical to absorb distressed properties reaching the market and to chip away at inventory,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in the statement reflecting some short-term optimism. “With a downtrend in the number of homes on the market, especially in the lower price ranges, values are beginning to firm but with great variance around the country.”

Interestingly enough, famed investor Warren Buffet offered a bit of longer-term optimism about the housing market in his letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders late last week. “Within a year or so, residential housing problems should largely be behind us, the exceptions being only high-value houses and those in certain localities where overbuilding was particularly egregious,” the Oracle of Omaha predicts.