Sales of existing homes increase, years of data revised

Also released on Wednesday were benchmark revisions with downward adjustments to sales and inventory data since 2007, led by a decline in for-sale-by-owners, the group said. 

NAR says it overstated about 3.5 million sales since 2007, a decline of more than 14 percent from 24.8 million to nearly 21.3 million, reflecting an even weaker housing market than previously thought. 

The trade group said the lower figures can be attributed to changes in the way the Census Bureau collects data, population shifts and some sales being counted twice.

"Although rebenchmarking resulted in lower adjustments to several years of home sales data, the month-to-month characterization of market conditions did not change," NAR said. "There are no changes to home prices or month’s supply."

The group said it ran the new figures past several government agencies and outside housing market experts and is confident in their accuracy. 

Total housing inventory at the end of November fell 5.8 percent, to 2.58 million existing homes available for sale, a seven-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 7.7-month supply in October and even closer to an ideal supply of six months, according to economists. 

“Since setting a record of 4.04 million in July 2007, inventories have trended down and supplies are moving close to price stabilization levels,” Yun said.

While the housing market is showing some consistent signs of improvement, even historically low mortgage rates can't quite provide the sector with the boost it needs to recover at a faster pace. 

A 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record-low 3.99 percent in November from 4.07 percent in October; the rate was 4.30 percent in November 2010 with records dating back to 1971, according to Freddie Mac.

Contract failures continued to hold back a broader sales recovery — 33 percent of NAR members reported them in November, unchanged from October but notably above a year ago, when they were 9 percent.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $164,200 in November, up 2.1 percent from October and down 3.5 percent from a year ago. 

Distressed homes — foreclosures and short sales typically sold at deep discounts — accounted for 29 percent of sales in November (19 percent were foreclosures and 10 percent were short sales), compared with 28 percent in October and 33 percent in November 2010.

All-cash sales — usually made by investors — accounted for 28 percent of purchases in November, about the same as October and the same period last year. 

Investors purchased 19 percent of homes in November, little-changed from 18 percent in October and 19 percent in November 2010. 

First-time buyers accounted for 35 percent of transactions in November, up from 34 percent in October and 32 percent in November 2010.

Single-family home sales rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.95 million in November from 3.78 million in October, and are 12.9 percent above the 3.50 million-unit level in November 2010. 

Sales were up in all regions — the Northeast led the way with an increase of 9.8 percent, while sales were up 4.3 percent in the Midwest, 2.4 percent in the South and 3.6 percent in the West.