Existing home sales soared 6.1% in March, and the share of sales for first-time buyers also increased. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported March 2015 total existing home sales at a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.19 million units combined for single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, up from an upwardly revised 4.89 million units in February. March existing sales were up 10.4% from the same period a year ago, and have increased year-over-year for six consecutive months. The March increase was the largest monthly increase since December 2010.
After surviving winter, existing sales increased from the previous month in all four regions, ranging from 10.1% in the Midwest to 3.8% in the South. Year-over-year, all four regions increased, ranging from 12.1% in the Midwest to 11.3% in the West, and only 1.6% in the Northeast.
The first-time buyer share increased to 30% in March, up from 29% in February and 28% in January. Reports of easing mortgage standards will help first-time buyers, and a full recovery awaits their return to their typical 40% share.
Total housing inventory increased 5.3% in March to 2.00 million existing homes from 1.89 million homes in February. At the current sales rate, the March unsold inventory represents a 4.6-month supply, down from the upwardly adjusted February 4.7-month supply. NAR also reported that in March the typical time on the market was 52 days, down from 62 days in February and 69 days in January. NAR reported that 40% of the homes sold in March were on the market less than a month, compared to 34% of homes sold in February and 30% in January.
The distressed sales share decreased to 10% in March from 11% the past four months, and was down from 14% during the same month a year ago. Distressed sales are defined as foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts. March all cash sales decreased to 24% of transactions, down from 26% of transactions in February and 27% in January, and were down from 33% in March 2014. Individual investors purchased a 14% share of homes in March, unchanged from February, and down from 17% during the same month a year ago. However, 70% of investors paid cash in March, up from 67% in February and January. The awaited withdrawal of cash investors will create more opportunity for first-time buyers.
The March median sales price of $212,100 was 7.8% above the same month a year ago, and represented the 37th consecutive month of year-over-year price increases. The median condominium/co-op price increased to $201,400 in March, up 1.6% from the same month a year ago.
The Pending Home Sales Index increased a strong 3.1% in February, predictive of improving existing sales for March and April. It is expected that existing sales will continue their upward momentum this spring and during the balance of 2015, hopefully supported by the much awaited recovery for first-time buyers.