Existing home sales drop in December to slowest pace since 2010

Homes in Rocklin, California, US, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. A record number of homes are being delisted as sellers face a sharp drop in demand, according to real estate brokerage Redfin.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sales of previously owned homes dropped 1.5% in December from the previous month, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Sales ended the year at a seasonally adjusted, annualized pace of 4.02 million units, which was 34% lower than December 2021. It is the slowest pace since November 2010, when the nation was struggling through a housing crisis brought on by faulty subprime mortgages.

Total sales for the year were down 17.8% from 2021.

Home sales have now fallen for 11 straight months, due to much higher mortgage rates, which began rising last spring and had more than doubled by fall. Sky-high prices, driven by high demand during the first years of the pandemic, weakened affordability even further and caused supply to fall sharply.

“December was another difficult month for buyers, who continue to face limited inventory and high mortgage rates,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. “However, expect sales to pick up again soon since mortgage rates have markedly declined after peaking late last year.”

Mortgage rates have fallen a full percentage point since their high last October, but they are still roughly double what they were one year ago.

At the end of December, total housing inventory fell 13.4% from November to 970,000 units. It was, however, up 10.2% from the previous December. Unsold inventory is at a 2.9-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.3 months in November but up from 1.7 months in December 2021.

Low supply continues to support prices to some extent, but the gains are shrinking compared with a year ago. The median price of an existing home sold in December was $366,900, up 2.3% from the year before. It is still the highest price recorded for December, but annual price gains had been in the double digits last summer.

“Markets in roughly half of the country are likely to offer potential buyers discounted prices compared to last year,” added Yun.

The trouble, however, is that sellers are not entering the market, given falling prices and weaker demand. The total inventory is higher than a year ago because homes are sitting on the market longer. New listings in January are down year over year.

“Evaporating demand has ended the strong sellers market of the past several years, and still-falling home sales tell us that many buyers are still not able to afford a purchase or not yet convinced that the market is tilted sufficiently in their favor to move forward. The housing market is entering “nobody’s market” territory as buyers and sellers remain largely in a stalemate,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com.

First-time buyers continue to struggle in today’s market, making up just 31% of December sales. While this is up from 30% in December of last year, it is far off the historical norm of 40%.

The market continues to slow, with homes sitting on the market an average 26 days, up from 24 days in November and 19 days in December 2021.

All-cash sales rose to 28% of transactions from 23% the year before and investors made up 16% of sales, slightly down from 17% the year before.

While sales are down in all price categories, they are falling most sharply on the higher end. Sales of homes priced above $1 million were down 45% year over year, compared with sales of homes priced between $250,000 and $500,000, which were down 34%. Yun suggested that weakness on the higher end may be due to volatility in the stock market.

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