• Pace strongest since 2006; all regions post double-digit gains
  • Median price jumps as inventories decline from year earlier

U.S. sales of previously owned homes surged by the most on record in July as lower mortgage rates continued to power a residential real estate market that’s proving a key source of strength for the economic recovery.

Closing transactions increased 24.7% from the prior month to a 5.86 million annualized rate, the strongest pace since the end of 2006 and reflecting broad gains across the U.S., according to National Association of Realtors data issued Friday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 5.41 million rate. Prices jumped 8.5% from a year earlier, on an unadjusted basis, to the highest on record.

“Housing demand is absolutely on fire,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities LLC, said in a note. “There are plenty of areas of the economy to worry about, but housing is most assuredly not one of them.”

Cheaper borrowing costs, pent-up demand and greater interest in suburban markets following the pandemic-related shutdowns earlier in the year are so far generating plenty of momentum in housing. At the same time, lean inventory, higher asking prices, and the coronavirus itself represent hurdles to further outsize gains.

Stocks extended this week’s gains after the report and separate data showing firmer business activity in August. Treasuries and the dollar also climbed.

“The housing market is past the recovery phase and is now in a booming stage,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said on a call with reporters. “Certainly, record-low mortgage rates are bringing more buyers into the market.”

There were 1.5 million existing homes for sale last month, down 21.1% from July 2019, the 14th straight year-over-year decline. It was the leanest supply for any July on record.

The number of houses for sale would last 3.1 months at the current sales pace. Anything below five months is seen as a tight market.

Median Price

Properties remained on the market for an average of 22 days, the shortest timespan on record, the NAR said. The median home price increased to an all-time high of $304,100 last month and compared with $280,400 a year earlier.

Purchases of previously owned single-family homes rose 23.9% and sales of condominiums increased nearly 32%, according to the NAR data.

“With the sizable shift in remote work, current homeowners are looking for larger homes and this will lead to a secondary level of demand even into 2021,” Yun said in a statement.

Existing-home sales increased in all four U.S. regions in July, including a 30.5% rise in the West and a 19.4% advance in the South. The rate of sales in the South, the largest U.S. region, was the strongest since May 2006. Purchases climbed 27.5% in the Midwest to the fastest pace since the end of 2006, and rose 30.6% in the Northeast.

Previously owned home sales account for roughly 90% of U.S. tractions and are calculated when a contract closes. July new-home sales data will be released by the Commerce Department on Tuesday.

(Adds economist’s comment in third paragraph. A previous version corrected second paragraph to show price was record, not YoY increase)

–With assistance from Kristy Scheuble.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Maeve Sheehey in Baltimore at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Scott Lanman at [email protected]