Existing-home sales increased in July, while low inventory levels and rising prices are the largest factors lowering sales to first-time buyers to their lowest share since January, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released Thursday.
Total existing-home sales rose 2.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.59 million in July from a downwardly revised 5.48 million in June. July sales were at the highest pace since 5.79 million in February 2007. Existing sales have now increased year-over-year for ten consecutive months and are 10.3 percent above the pace a year ago at 5.07 million.
The report also found that single-family home sales increased 2.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.96 million in July to their highest level since 5.08 million in February 2007. Single-family sales were 4.83 million in June, and are now 11.0 percent above the 4.47 million pace a year ago.
Many economists believe that the growth in existing-home sales can be mostly attributed to growth in the employment sector.
“In some markets, this boost has been led by job growth –a key sign that the recovery is on track,” said Selma Hepp, Trulia’s chief economist. “As millennial employment improves, young adults will continue to move out of their parent’s homes and form their own households, first as renters and then as homeowners.”
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist added, “The creation of jobs added at a steady clip and the prospect of higher mortgage rates and home prices down the road is encouraging more households to buy now. As a result, current homeowners are using their increasing housing equity towards the down payment on their next purchase."
According to the NAR, the median existing-home price for all housing types in July was $234,000, which is 5.6 percent above July 2014. This in increase marks the 41st consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The median existing single-family home price was $235,500 in July, up 5.8 percent from July 2014.
"Despite the strong growth in sales since this spring, declining affordability could begin to slowly dampen demand," Yun said. "Realtors in some markets reported slower foot traffic in July in part because of low inventory and concerns about the continued rise in home prices without commensurate income gains."
NAR reported that total housing inventory declined 0.4 percent to 2.24 million existing homes available for sale at the end of July. This total is now 4.7 percent lower than a year ago when inventory levels reached 2.35 million.
“Tight inventory across the country continues to put pressure on home prices,” Hepp said. “As more potential buyers are being pushed out of the market, home sellers may be reluctant to sell if there is a perception that they might not be able to find another home to buy–thus perpetuating the problem.”
Another decline was recorded in the percent share of first-time buyers in July for the second consecutive month. First-time buyers in July lowered to 28 percent from 30 percent in June, the lowest share since January of this year which was 28 percent.
"The fact that first-time buyers represented a lower share of the market compared to a year ago even though sales are considerably higher is indicative of the challenges many young adults continue to face," Yun said. "Rising rents and flat wage growth make it difficult for many to save for a down payment, and the dearth of supply in affordable price ranges is limiting their options."