December 2009 Existing Home Sales Down 16%

After a rising surge from September through November, existing-home sales fell as expected in December after first-time buyers rushed to complete sales before the original November deadline for the tax credit. However, prices rose from December 2008 and annual sales improved in 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – fell 16.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.45 million units in December from 6.54 million in November, but remain 15.0 percent above the 4.74 million-unit level in December 2008.

For all of 2009 there were 5,156,000 existing-home sales, which was 4.9 percent higher than the 4,913,000 transactions recorded in 2008; it was the first annual sales gain since 2005.

The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $178,300 in December, which is 1.5 percent higher than December 2008. “The median price rose because of an increased number of mid- to upper-priced homes in the sales mix,” Yun said. It was the first year-over-year gain in median price since August 2007.

So, what are we to make of these numbers? It's clear that the home-buyer tax credit fueled a lot of sales in November. Now that the credit has been renewed until April 2010, there is less urgency and sales numbers are falling. It shows the impact the government program is having on monthly sales figures.

Still, a 16.7% drop is significant. Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 6.6 percent to 3.29 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 6.5-month supply in November. It's not good that inventory is headed in the wrong direction. If this is a housing recovery, it's a very tentative one.

Sam Cass
Sam Cass: Sam Cass, MBA, JD, University of Texas at Austin. Always a fan of Leonardo Da Vinci.

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  • Brian Chance

    January 26, 2010

    There is no housing recovery underway it was just a bounce from people thinking the first-time $8K tax credit would expire along with the seasonal summer strength of the housing market. The s&p case shiller index is due out tommorow (Nov #). Oct was up just a fraction. I think the Nov # will show that the housing market bounce is waning to over, and I suspect the s&p case shiller index 10 will be flat to down -.25%. This should add more cold water to the camp of people who believe the housing market is making a turn around.

  • Sam Cass

    January 26, 2010

    Brian, I agree. It's clear the housing market is just being propped up with government stimulus - tax credit, low interest rates, and fha loans. In the absence of any of these, housing sales would tumble even more. But even these three can't seem to reinvigorate an exhausted market.

  • Brian Chance

    January 26, 2010

    I posted my expectations for the S&P/Case-Shiller index # for Oct as -.25% yesterday 1/25. Below is the actual # released on 1/26 -.20% (right on the money).

    The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index recorded a decline of 0.2% from October. Prices were down 5.3% compared with 12 months ago.

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