Good news for the real estate market despite the global pandemic as existing-home sales rose in December, with home sales in 2020 reaching their highest level since 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Activity in the major regions was mixed on a month-over-month basis, but each of the four areas recorded double-digit year-over-year growth in December.
Total existing-home sales,1 completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 0.7% from November to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.76 million in December. Sales in total rose year-over-year, up 22.2% from a year ago (5.53 million in December 2019), according to an NAR news release.
“Home sales rose in December, and for 2020 as a whole, we saw sales perform at their highest levels since 2006, despite the pandemic,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist in the news release. “What’s even better is that this momentum is likely to carry into the new year, with more buyers expected to enter the market.”
Yun predicts a continuation of the strong activity that’s currently taking place in the housing market and in the overall economy.
“Although mortgage rates are projected to increase, they will continue to hover near record lows at around 3%,” Yun said. “Moreover, expect economic conditions to improve with additional stimulus forthcoming and vaccine distribution already underway.”
The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in December was $309,800, up 12.9% from December 2019 ($274,500), as prices increased in every region. December’s national price increase marks 106 straight months of year-over-year gains.
Total housing inventory3 at the end of December totaled 1.07 million units, down 16.4% from November and down 23% from one year ago (1.39 million). Unsold inventory sits at an all-time low 1.9-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 2.3 months in November and down from the 3.0-month figure recorded in December 2019. NAR first began tracking the single-family home supply in 1982, the news release said.
Properties typically remained on the market for 21 days in December, seasonally even with November and down from 41 days in December 2019. Seventy percent of the homes sold in December 2020 were on the market for less than a month.
“To their credit, homebuilders and construction companies have increased efforts to build, with housing starts hitting an annual rate of near 1.7 million in December, with more focus on single-family homes,” Yun said. “However, it will take vigorous new home construction in 2021 and in 2022 to adequately furnish the market to properly meet the demand.”
First-time buyers were responsible for 31% of sales in December, unchanged from the same time in 2019, but down from 32% in November 2020. NAR’s 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 20204 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 31%.
Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14% of homes in December, identical to the share recorded in November 2020 and a small decline from 17% in December 2019. All-cash sales accounted for 19% of transactions in December, down from 20% in both November and December 2019.
Distressed sales5 – foreclosures and short sales – represented less than 1% of sales in December, equal to November’s percentage but down from 2% in December 2019.
“NAR will work with the incoming Biden administration in pursuit of policies promoting housing affordability and accessibility,” said NAR President Charlie Oppler, a Realtor from Franklin Lakes, N.J., and the CEO of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in the news release. “We were pleased with the homebuyer tax credit President Biden proposed as a candidate and we look forward to continuing our work with Congress and the White House. We will aim to find common ground, especially related to ways of boosting home supply and working toward solutions that will protect and support homeownership and America’s broader real estate industry.”
According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage decreased to 2.68% in December, down from 2.77% in November. The average commitment rate across all of 2020 was 3.11%, the news release cited.
Single-family home sales rose at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.03 million in December, up 0.7% from 5.99 million in November, and up 22.8% from one year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $314,300 in December, up 13.5% from December 2019.
Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales
Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 730,000 units in December, up 1.4% from November and up 17.7% from one year ago. The median existing condo price was $272,200 in December, an increase of 6.9% from a year ago.
Median home prices increased at double-digit rates in each of the four major regions from one year ago.
December 2020 saw existing-home sales in the Northeast climb 4.5%, recording an annual rate of 930,000, a 27.4% increase from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $362,100, up 19.0% from December 2019.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest were unchanged, recording an annual rate of 1,590,000 in December, but up 26.2% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $235,700, a 13.7% increase from December 2019.
Existing-home sales in the South increased 1.1% to an annual rate of 2,860,000 in December, up 20.7% from the same time one year ago. The median price in the South was $268,100, an 11.3% increase from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West fell 1.4% from the month prior, recording an annual rate of 1,380,000 in December, a 17.9% increase from a year ago. The median price in the West was $467,900, up 14.2% from December 2019.
1 Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from Multiple Listing Services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. NAR rebenchmarks home sales periodically using other sources to assess overall home sales trends, including sales not reported by MLSs.
Existing-home sales, based on closings, differ from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which account for more than 90% of total home sales, are based on a much larger data sample – about 40% of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.
The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.
Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.
2 The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical of market conditions than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if additional data is received.
The national median condo/co-op price often is higher than the median single-family home price because condos are concentrated in higher-cost housing markets. However, in a given area, single-family homes typically sell for more than condos as seen in NAR’s quarterly metro area price reports.
3 Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, single-family sales accounted for more than 90% of transactions and condos were measured only on a quarterly basis).
4 Survey results represent owner-occupants and differ from separately reported monthly findings from NAR’s Realtors Confidence Index, which include all types of buyers. Investors are under-represented in the annual study because survey questionnaires are mailed to the addresses of the property purchased and generally are not returned by absentee owners. Results include both new and existing homes.
5 Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions and investors are from a monthly survey for the NAR’s Realtors Confidence Index, posted at nar.realtor.