Thursday, December 5, 2013
Christopher S. Rugaber / The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — U.S. sales of previously occupied homes rose solidly in October, helped by improvement in the job market and record-low mortgage rates. The increase along with a jump in homebuilder confidence this month suggests the housing market continues to recover.
Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell to fresh record lows this week, a trend that has helped the housing market start to recover this year. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says that the average rate on the 30-year loan dipped to 3.34 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1971. That's down from 3.40 percent last week and the previous record low of 3.36 percent reached last month.
The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales rose 2.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.79 million. That's up from 4.69 million in September, which was revised lower.
The sales pace is roughly 11 percent higher than a year ago. But it remains below the more than 5.5 million that economists consider consistent with a healthy market.
Superstorm Sandy delayed some sales in the Northeast, the Realtors' group said. Sales fell 1.7 percent there, the only region to show a decline. Those sales will likely be completed in future months, the group said.
Confidence among U.S. homebuilders rose this month to its highest level in six and a half years, driven by strong demand for newly built homes and growing optimism about conditions next year.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index increased to 46, up from 41 in October. Readings below 50 suggest negative sentiment about the housing market. The index last reached that level in April 2006. Still the index has been trending higher since October 2011, when it stood at 17.
There have been other positive signals from the housing market. Applications for mortgage loans to buy homes jumped 11 percent in the week ended Nov. 9, compared with a week earlier, the Mortgage Bankers' Association said last week. Purchase applications are up 22 percent in the past year.
Foreclosures are slowing. The number of properties that began the foreclosure process in the first 10 months of the year fell 8 percent compared with the same period last year, RealtyTrac said last week.
Home prices have been rising steadily, though they remain lower than they were six years ago. And builders broke ground on new homes and apartments at the fastest pace in more than four years in September. The jump could help boost the economy and hiring.
Still, the market has a long way back to full health. Many potential home buyers cannot meet stricter lending standards or produce larger down payments required by banks.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Thursday that banks' overly tight lending standards may be preventing sales and holding back the U.S. economy.