Existing-home sales are down 2 percent, and existing-home prices (median and average) are down as well, the National Association of Realtors announced Tuesday.
Sales of existing homes, seasonally adjusted to an annual rate, are down to 4.93 million units, off 19.3 percent from last March. Slack sales are not a regional problem either, down year-over-year 22.3 percent in the West, 20.0 percent in the South, in the Northeast (18.8 percent), and in the Midwest (15.9 percent).
But in not seasonally adjusted terms, when the data is just this month's sales, then sales are up 19.9 percent to 374,000 units over February and are up month-over-month in every region of the country.
But that is merely a factor of warmer weather, says Moody's Economy.com chief economist Mark Zandi.
"That's seasonal," Zandi says. "We're into the spring selling season in parts of the country in March."
One positive to take from March's data is that the increase in existing homes for-sale that generally happens from February to March was not very large, says Zandi. It is a sign people are wary of the market, but also means less competition for for-sale properties, Zandi says. Months' supply of existing homes is still high, at 9.9 months, but increased only from 9.6 months supply in February. A high of 10.5 months supply was recorded this past October.
Nationally, median existing-home sale prices were down 7.7 percent year-over-year, while average existing-home prices were down 6.6 percent. Though median home prices were up 4.6 percent in the Northeast, median prices were off as much as 14.7 percent in the West. Zandi sees another 12 months of price declines, with sellers slashing prices and foreclosures keeping prices low.
"More price cutting, and non-price discounts, going through this time next year," he says.
Zandi believes the market is near bottom for home sales, including new-home sales.
"If the economy had held firm, we'd have already seen a bottom in sales," he says. "We're approaching the bottom in sales. Builders are slashing prices and working hard to move inventory, so I think we're near the bottom in terms of sales. But it's a very low number."
But the bottom could still prove elusive. "The big wait," Zandi says, and employment will be the key. The unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent from 4.8 percent in March, and over the last three months payroll employment has declined by 232,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Census.