December home sales topped the previous month by a double-digit percentage, defying the usual slowdown brought on by seasonal influences, according to a survey of metros nationwide.
RE/MAX reported Monday that home sales activity jumped 14.4 percent nationally month-over-month December, a sharp reversal from November's 22.5 percent drop. Compared to the same month in 2013, December sales were up 3.9 percent, making it one of only a handful of months in 2014 to see transactions improve on a yearly basis.
Due on Friday is the National Association of Realtors' monthly estimate of existing-home sales, which economists expect will show an adjusted annualized transaction rate of 5.05 million, based on a pickup in contract signings in November.
"After a sluggish start, it's nice to see the year end on a positive note. Even though we're well into the winter months, homebuyers felt confident enough to enter the market in greater numbers than just one month ago," said Dave Liniger, CEO, chair, and co-founder of RE/MAX.
Out of 53 metro markets surveyed by RE/MAX last month, 42 reported higher sales on a year-over-year comparison, with 12 posting double-digit increases, the company said.
Continuing the prevailing trend since early 2012, home prices also climbed annually, rising 5.9 percent over December 2013 to a median $196,000. On a year-over-year basis, the national median home price has increased for 35 straight months in RE/MAX's survey.
At the same time, price growth has fallen off by half from 2013 as rising inventory levels and slightly lower demand make for a cooler market.
"[W]ith prices rising at a much slower rate than last year, sellers continue to increase their equity, while buyers don't feel priced out of the market," Liniger said.
Despite the improving trend in inventory, supply remains constrained, falling 10.7 percent in December compared to the year prior and 11.4 percent compared to November. Inventory has increased sequentially in 14 of the last 20 months, with November and December both proving an exception to the pattern, RE/MAX said.