Americans shrugged off rising mortgage rates and bought existing homes in January at the fastest pace since 2007. That has set off bidding wars that have pushed up prices as the supply of available homes has dwindled to record lows.
Home sales rose 3.3% in January from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.69 million, the National Assn. of Realtors said Wednesday.
Steady job gains, modest pay raises and rising consumer confidence are spurring healthy home buying even though borrowing costs have risen since last fall. Some potential buyers may be accelerating their home purchases to get ahead of any further increases in mortgage rates. With few homes available for sale, buyers feel pressure to rapidly close a deal when they find a suitable property.
The typical house for sale was on the market for just 50 days last month, down from 64 days a year earlier. Strong demand is pushing up the median home price, which jumped 7.1% from a year earlier to $228,900.
Just 1.69 million homes were on the market nationwide in January, near the lowest level since records began in 1999. It would take 3.6 months to deplete that supply at the current pace of sales, matching a record low reached in December. In a balanced housing market, supply is usually equal to about six months’ worth of sales.
The supply crunch probably will get worse during the upcoming spring buying season, economists say, because demand typically rises by more than supply during that time.
“Relative to the number of households, the number of homes for sale is well through prior historic lows,” said Ted Wieseman, an economist at Morgan Stanley. “The level of inventories could be a much bigger challenge moving into much higher sales in the spring and summer.”
That, combined with higher mortgage rates, soon could restrain sales.