WASHINGTON -- Fueled partly by an increase in the share of sales to first-time buyers, existing-home sales increased in May to their highest pace in nearly six years, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Led by the Northeast, all major regions experienced sales increases in May.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in May from an upwardly revised 5.09 million in April. Sales have now increased year-over-year for eight consecutive months and are 9.2 percent above a year ago (4.90 million).
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says May home sales rebounded strongly following April's decline and are now at their highest pace since November 2009 (5.44 million). "Solid sales gains were seen throughout the country in May as more homeowners listed their home for sale and therefore provided greater choices for buyers," he said. "However, overall supply still remains tight, homes are selling fast and price growth in many markets continues to teeter at or near double-digit appreciation. Without solid gains in new home construction, prices will likely stay elevated -- even with higher mortgage rates above 4 percent."
Total housing inventory at the end of May increased 3.2 percent to 2.29 million existing homes available for sale, and is 1.8 percent higher than a year ago (2.25 million). Unsold inventory is at a 5.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 5.2 months in April.
The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $228,700, which is 7.9 percent above May 2014. This marks the 39th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.
The percent share of first-time buyers rose to 32 percent in May, up from 30 percent in April and matching the highest share since September 2012. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 27 percent of all buyers.
"The return of first-time buyers in May is an encouraging sign and is the result of multiple factors, including strong job gains among young adults, less expensive mortgage insurance and lenders offering low downpayment programs," said Yun. "More first-time buyers are expected to enter the market in coming months, but the overall share climbing higher will depend on how fast rates and prices rise."
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage climbed in May to 3.84 percent from 3.67 percent in April but remained below 4.00 percent for the sixth straight month.
NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark., says Realtors® overwhelmingly support the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's proposal of a two-month delay for the implementation of the new Truth in Lending Act and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act Integrated Disclosure, or TRID, regulation. "NAR has long advocated the need to avoid implementing the new regulation during the peak buying season," he said. "With interest rates on the rise, many families wanting to buy are looking to lock-in at current rates and move into their new home before the school year starts. Holding off on TRID implementation through the summer helps these buyers avoid any disruption or delays in closings that could develop once the regulation goes into effect."
With demand continuing to far exceed supply, properties typically stayed on the market for 40 days in May, up from April (39 days) but the third shortest time since NAR began tracking in May 2011. Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 131 days in May, while foreclosures sold in 56 days and non-distressed homes took 38 days. Forty-five percent of homes sold in May were on the market for less than a month.
All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in May for the third straight month and are down considerably from a year ago (32 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in May, unchanged from last month and down from 16 percent in May 2014. Sixty-seven percent of investors paid cash in May.
Distressed sales -- foreclosures and short sales -- remained at 10 percent for the third consecutive month in May and are below the 11 percent share a year ago. Seven percent of May sales were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15 percent below market value in May (20 percent in April), while short sales were also discounted 16 percent (14 percent in April).
Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales
Single-family home sales jumped 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.73 million in May from 4.48 million in April, and are and now 9.7 percent above the 4.31 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $230,300 in May, up 8.6 percent from May 2014.
Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 620,000 units in May from 610,000 units in April, and are 5.1 percent higher than May 2014 (590,000 units). The median existing condo price was $216,400 in May, which is 1.9 percent higher than a year ago.
May existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 11.3 percent to an annual rate of 690,000, and are now 11.3 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $269,000, which is 4.8 percent higher than May 2014.
In the Midwest, existing-home sales rose 4.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.27 million in May, and are 12.4 percent above May 2014. The median price in the Midwest was $181,900, up 9.4 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the South increased 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 2.18 million in May, and are 6.9 percent above May 2014. The median price in the South was $198,300, up 8.2 percent from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West climbed 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 1.21 million in May, and are 9.0 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $324,000, which is 10.2 percent above May 2014.