Mon. Feb 6th, 2023


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Existing home sales fell in December to the lowest rate in more than a decade.

Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Sales of previously-owned homes fell in December to the lowest rate in more than a decade—but there are signs that the housing market is turning around.

Existing homes in December were sold at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.02 million, the National Association of Realtors said Friday—the lowest monthly rate since November 2010. The result is 1.5% lower than November 2022’s revised rate and 34% below the same month in 2021, and represents the 11th month in a row of declines.

Home prices continued to chill. The median home sold for $366,900 in December, a decline of about 11% from their peak in June. On a year-over-year basis, prices were up 2.3%, the slowest such growth since May 2020. The relatively low national number means that half of the country is likely seeing year-over-year price declines, while half are seeing increases, Lawrence Yun, the association’s chief economist, said on a Friday morning conference call.

Home supply, measured as the time it would take every home on the market to sell at the current sales pace, was 2.9 months—down roughly 12% from November but about 71% higher than the same month last year. At the end of the month, there were 970,000 units on the market, down 13.4% from the month prior but 10.2% higher than December 2021.

Full-year data for 2022 was also released. There were 5.03 million existing-home sales in 2022, a 17.8% drop from 2021, and the lowest annual figure since 2014, Yun said on the call. The median home sale price was $386,300, an all-time high and an increase of 10.2% from the year prior, NAR said.

“December’s existing home sales report hit the losing trifecta of lower sales, lower inventory and higher prices,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “The one encouraging point was home prices only increased 2.3% from a year earlier. In many markets, we’re seeing home prices fall from inflated levels, which spells opportunity for some prospective buyers. However, while mortgage rates have fallen a full percentage point to about 6%, that level is still too high to encourage many more listings and much more buying.”

December may prove to be the cyclical low point for home sales, NAR’s Yun said. “Mortgage rates have fallen in the recent past weeks, so I’m very hopeful that the worst in home sales are probably coming to an end,” he said.

Indeed, recent data has shown that some buyers may be returning to the market as mortgage rates pull back. The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 6.15% this week, according to Freddie Mac, representing a pullback of nearly one point since late 2022’s peak of 7.08%.

Mortgage rates’ easing this year may have resulted in a pickup in mortgage applications, Mortgage Bankers Association data shows. And builder confidence, which sank throughout 2022, increased for the first time since December 2021 this month amid lower rates, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Yun said he expects the spread between the 10-year Treasury yield and the 30-year mortgage rate, which he says is abnormally large, to normalize, resulting in lower mortgage rates in the spring. “That’s going to begin to attract buyers back into the market,” the economist said.

That sets housing inventory up to be a critical factor this spring. “The key question is: will there be sufficient supply?” Yun said. “We really need to begin to address the supply issue.”

Write to Shaina Mishkin at shaina.mishkin@dowjones.com

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Existing-Home Sales Ended 2022 on a Low Note. Why This Year Could Be Different.

Sales of previously-owned homes fell in December to the lowest rate in more than a decade—but there are signs that the housing market is turning around.

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