Existing home sales, as reported by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), increased 5.1% in March, rebounding from the 7.1% tumble in February but showing no signs of increased activity among first-time buyers. The first-time buyer share of 30% in March remained unchanged from last month as well as March 2015. Total existing home sales in March increased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.33 million units combined for single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, up from a downwardly revised 5.07 million units in February.
March existing sales increased in all four regions, ranging from 11.1% and 9.8% in the Northeast and Midwest respectively to 2.7% and 1.8% in the South and West. Year-over-year, the Northeast increased 7.7%, the South was up 2.3% and the Midwest remained essentially flat at 0.8%. The West decreased 2.5% from the same period a year ago.
Total housing inventory increased 5.9% in March, but remains 1.5% lower than its level a year ago. At the current sales rate, the March unsold inventory represents a 4.5-month supply, up slightly from February. Some 42% of homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month, the highest since July 2015.
The distressed sales share decreased to 8% in March from 10% last month and 10% a year ago. Distressed sales are defined as foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts. The March all-cash sales share remained at 25%, up from 24% during the same period a year ago. Individual investors purchased a 14% share in March, down from 18% in February and continued to follow a four year pattern of increasing at the beginning of the year and declining by spring.
The March median sales price of $222,700 was 5.7% above the same month a year ago, and represents the 49th consecutive month of year-over-year increases. The median condominium/co-op price of $209,600 in March was up 4.6% from the same month a year ago.
The Pending Home Sales Index increased 3.5% in February, so the March rebound in existing sales was not unexpected. Builder sentiment remains strong, and the tight inventory of existing homes bodes well for new single-family sales in 2016.