U.S. existing home sales unexpectedly rise in January

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. home sales unexpectedly rose in January despite tight inventories boosting house prices.

FILE PHOTO: A newly constructed single family home is shown as sold in Encinitas, California, U.S., July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The National Association of Realtors said on Friday that existing home sales increased 0.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.69 million units last month. Sales have been increasing even as contracts have been declining.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast sales would fall 1.5% to a rate of 6.61 million units in January.

Home resales, which account for the bulk of U.S. home sales, surged 23.7% on a year-on-year basis.

The housing market, the economy’s star performer during the COVID-19 recession, is being supported by historically low mortgage rates and demand for spacious accommodations for home offices and schooling, mostly in the suburbs and other lower-density areas.

But demand has far outstripped supply, driving up home prices. About 23.2% of the labor force is working from home.

Last month, sales fell in the Northeast and West. They, however, rose in the South and the Midwest.

There were a record-low 1.04 million previously owned homes on the market in January, down 25.7% from one year ago. The median existing house price shot up 14.1% from a year ago to $303,900 in January.

The inventory crunch could ease as builders step up construction, though they are facing challenges from record lumber prices as well as shortages of land and labor.

The government reported on Thursday that permits for future home building soared in January to their highest level since May 2006.

At January’s sales pace, it would take 1.9 months to exhaust the current inventory, down from 3.1 months a year ago. A six-to-seven-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

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