Existing home sales rose in July, inventory ticked higher

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FILE – In this Thursday, June 24, 2021 file photo, a real estate sign is posted in front of a newly constructed single family home in Auburn, N.H. U.S. home prices registered the fastest growth in 17 years in May as a surge in demand for housing outstripped the supply. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, July 27 soared 17% in May from a year earlier on top of a 15% jump in April. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes rose for the second consecutive month in July, though only modestly from a year ago, suggesting the red-hot housing market may be cooling a little.

Existing homes sales rose 2% last month from June to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.99 million units, the National Association of Realtors said Monday. That’s greater than the 5.82 million economists were expecting, according to FactSet.

Sales rose only 1.5% from July last year. By comparison, sales in June jumped about 23% from a year earlier, when many states were still in a pandemic lockdown.

“Sales are still running above pre-pandemic conditions, but appear to be settling down,” said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist.

The median U.S. home price climbed 17.8% from a year ago to $359,900, near the all-time high it set in June, NAR said. That annual gain was more modest than the 20%-25% year-over-year increases seen earlier this year.

“Clearly, the home price growth is moderating,” Yun said.

Sales of homes above $500,000 rose last month while those below that tier fell, helped skew the median price higher.

Would-be homebuyers who have been trying to navigate the most competitive market in more than a decade had perhaps a wider selection to consider at the end of July, when the inventory of unsold homes stood at 1.32 million. That’s an increase of 7.3% from June, but it’s still down 12% from July last year. At the current sales pace, the unsold inventory amounts to a 2.6-month supply, the NAR said.

With so few homes up for sale, it has become routine for anyone putting a house on the market to receive multiple offers that exceed the asking price, and many sell within days. In July, homes typically remained on the market 17 days before getting snapped up. That’s unchanged from June, but down from 22 days in July 2020.

“I expect we’ll have more inventory in upcoming months,” Yun said.

First-time homebuyers made up 30% of all transactions last month, down from 31% in June and 34% a year ago. These buyers have to contend with fewer homes for sale in the more affordable end of the market and competition from all-cash buyers, often investors. Some 23% of homes sold in July were paid for with cash, unchanged from June and up from 16% in July last year.

Still, first-time buyers continue to benefit from ultra-low mortgage rates. The average interest rate on a 30-year mortgage eased last week to 2.86%, according to Freddie Mac. The benchmark rate, which reached a peak this year of 3.18% in April, stood at 2.99% a year ago.

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