December's drop-off in sales was the biggest for the month in a decade and was the fifth straight month in which sales numbers were down compared to a year earlier.
"Home sales have cooled, especially during the second half of 2018, but that was inevitable given the strong seller's market that has persisted for nearly a decade," said RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos. "We believe sales activity can pick back up if the pace of price escalation continues to moderate, interest rates tick further downward, and wage growth continues."
It was also the third month in a row that inventory grew—up 4.6 percent from a year ago, and the first time in about a decade that a year ended with more inventory than the previous December. The month closed with an average of 4.1 months of inventory nationally, up even over November's 3.9 months of supply.
"December's inventory gain, continuing the three-month growth trend, is welcome news," Contos said. "The market remains choppy and there's still a long way to go, but these gains represent steps toward a balanced market, which in the long run is healthy for both buyers and sellers."
Four metros had more than a half-year's supply in December, the most notable being Miami, with a 10-month inventory. San Francisco's 1.8 months of supply was the lowest in December.
Homes were flying off the shelf in Omaha, where they closed in an average 26 days in December. That's just about half the month's national average of 54. Salt Lake City and San Francisco houses both moved in about 37 days. On the other side of the equation, selling a home in Trenton, N.J. was a long wait. Homes that closed in December spent an average of 113 days on the market.
Home buyers still paid record amounts throughout 2018. Prices grew year-over-year in every month of 2018, with the biggest gains being the 13 percent upswing in Boise. Wichita and Salt Lake City also put up double-digit increases in median prices compared to the previous December.
Eight metros did see their prices come down in December. The largest dip was Honolulu, where the median home price dropped almost 8 percent, compared to a year earlier. Overall, December's year-over-year increase was just over 2 percent, which was much smaller than Decembers past.