December home sales slump to close out worst year since 1995


A delivery man delivers packages in a Los Angeles neighborhood on January 17, 2024. 

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Sales of previously owned homes fell 1% in December compared with November to 3.78 million units on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales were 6.2% lower than in December 2022, marking the lowest level since August 2010.

Full-year sales for 2023 came in at 4.09 million units, the lowest tally since 1995.

Regionally, on a month-to-month basis, sales were unchanged in the Northeast and fell 4.3% in the Midwest. Sales were down 2.8% in the South but rebounded 7.8% in the West. On a year-over-year basis, sales were lower in all regions.

The count of home closings is based on contracts likely signed in late October and November, when mortgage rates were considerably higher than they are now. The average rate on the 30-year fixed loan rose to about 8% in October before falling to the 7% range in November. It is now at 6.89%, according to Mortgage News Daily.

“The latest month’s sales look to be the bottom before inevitably turning higher in the new year,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a release. “Mortgage rates are meaningfully lower compared to just two months ago, and more inventory is expected to appear on the market in upcoming months.”

Inventory fell 11.5% from November to December, but it was up 4.2% from December 2022. There were 1 million homes for sale at the end of December, making for a 3.2-month supply at the current sales pace. A six-month supply is considered balanced between buyer and seller.

Tight supply continues to reheat home prices. The median price of a home sold in December was $382,600, an increase of 4.4% from December 2022. That is the sixth consecutive month of year-over-year price gains. The median price for the full year was $389,800, a record high.

Homes stayed on the market longer in December, at an average of 29 days, up from 25 days in November. The share of all-cash sales rose to 29% from 27% in November. Individual investors, who make up a large share of all-cash sales, bought 16% of homes, down from 18% in November.

That pullback in activity from investors may be one bright spot for buyers. Both higher home prices and higher financing costs resulted in fewer investor home purchases for the full year 2023, according to a recent Realtor.com study.

With rents continuing to ease and more multi-family homes entering the market for rent, investors may continue to tread more cautiously in the housing market,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. “This would mean one less source of competition for potential first-time home buyers who are approaching the 2024 market with optimism despite the challenge of trying to buy a home at a below-median price point, one that investors also often target.”

First-time buyers are still struggling, making up just 29% of December sales, down from 31% the year before. Historically they make up 40% of the market.



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