Home prices in the fourth quarter of 2012 showed a rate of annual appreciation greater than in any quarter since the end of 2005, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). There were 133 metropolitan areas in which median prices rose during the quarter out of the 152 tracked by NAR. Prices increase in 120 areas in the third quarter and only 29 one year earlier. Twenty-nine areas posted price declines in the recent period.
The median price of an existing single-family home was $178,900 in the fourth quarter, up 10.0 percent from $162,600 in the fourth quarter of 2011. The annual increase in the third quarter was 8.8 percent. In the fourth quarter of 2005 the median price increase was 13.6 percent. NAR uses median price, where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less, because average prices can be skewed by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The median price of a condo/cooperative was $179,900, an increase of 12.2 percent since the fourth quarter of 2011. Condo prices increased in 47 metro areas.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said all the conditions for strong price growth are at play including increasing home sales, record low interest rates, and the lowest inventory of unsold homes in 12 years. “Home sales are being fueled by a pent-up demand and job creation, along with still favorable affordability conditions and rents rising at faster rates,” Yun said. “Our population has been growing faster than overall housing stock, so supply and demand dynamics are very much at play.” He added that more housing construction is needed to relieve some of the pressure in the market and keep home prices from overheating.
Some of the price increases arise from a smaller market share of lower priced homes. The share of foreclosures and short sales, which usually sell at deep discounts, fell to 23 percent of sales in the fourth quarter compared to 30 percent a year ago.
Fourth quarter existing home sales rose 5.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.90 million in the fourth quarter from 4.66 million in the third quarter, and were 12.1 percent above the 4.37 million pace during the fourth quarter of 2011. The last time there was a higher rate of existing home sales was 4.95 million in the fourth quarter of 2009.
The unsold inventory of existing homes was at the lowest level since January 2001. At the end of the fourth quarter there were 1.82 million existing homes available for sale, which is 21.6 percent below the close of the fourth quarter of 2011 when 2.32 million homes were on the market.
NAR’s national annual Housing Affordability Index, established in 1970, rose to a record high 193.5 in 2012 from 186.4 in 2011. The index is calculated on the relationship between median home price, median family income and average effective mortgage interest rate. An index of 100 is defined as the point where a median-income household has exactly enough income to qualify for the purchase of a median-priced existing single-family home, assuming a 20 percent downpayment and 25 percent of gross income devoted to mortgage principal and interest payments. . The higher the index, the stronger the household purchasing power.
“The housing affordability index shows that the national median income of families was almost double the income needed to buy a median-priced home in 2012, so most buyers are able to stay well within their means,” Yun said. Despite rising prices the index is expected to average 161 in 2013, which would be the third best on record.
Existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter and are 12.9 percent above the fourth quarter of 2011. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast rose on an annual basis by 0.7 percent to $228,400.
Midwest sales rose 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter and are 18.3 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing single-family home price increased 9.2 percent to $143,800.
Sales in the South were up 5.0 percent from the third quarter and 13.2 percent from a year earlier. The regional median home price was up 9.1 percent to $160,100.
The West was impacted most by limited housing supplies and had the strongest price increase, jumping 20.1 percent year-over-year to a median of $245,200. Sales were up 5.9 percent from the third quarter and are 5.0 percent higher than a year ago.