Strong Home Sales in 2016, but a Lack of Inventory in 2017

Despite affordability issues and low inventory, 2016 had the best existing-home sales in a decade. At 5.45 million sales, existing-home sales haven’t set a pace this fast since 2006, when sales reached 6.48 million; in comparison, sales in 2015 topped out at 5.25 million. According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), “Solid job creation throughout 2016 and exceptionally low mortgage rates translated into a good year for the housing market.”

In Demand, but Low Supply

But sales in the last month of the year were soft. Existing-home sales fell in December to 5.49 million, dropping 2.8 percent, but sales were still 0.7 percent higher than a year earlier. Low inventory combined with high mortgage rates and home prices took their toll on December’s sales. Inventory in the last month of the year fell by 10.8 percent to 1.65 million existing-homes available for sale; at the current sales pace, this is enough inventory to last only 3.6 months.

This is the 19th month inventory has fallen year over year. What’s more, this is the lowest inventory level recorded since NAR began tracking the housing supply in 1999. Unfortunately, housing construction is still stuck at recessionary levels. Unless more is done to address regulatory issues, new home construction will not be able to address the demand that will arise from current population and economic growth trends.

Regional Breakdown

Northeast – Existing-home sales annual rate of 760,000; a decrease of 6.2 percent from November but an increase of 2.7 percent from December 2015. Midwest – Existing-home sales annual rate of 1.28 million; a decrease of 3.8 percent from November but an increase of 2.4 percent from December 2015.

South – Existing-home sales annual rate of 2.25 million; while unchanged from November, it is an increase of 0.4 percent from December 2015. West – Existing-home sales annual rate of 1.2 million; a decrease of 4.8 percent from November but an increase of 1.6 percent from December 2015.

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