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Home sales fell nearly 6% in July as housing market slides into a recession

While demand is falling off because of weaker affordability, prices remain stubbornly high.

Sales of previously owned homes fell by nearly 6% in July compared with June, according to a monthly report from the National Association of Realtors.

The sales count declined to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.81 million units, the group said. It is the slowest sales pace since November 2015, except for a brief plunge at the beginning of the Covid pandemic.

Sales fell by about 20% from the same month a year ago.

“In terms of economic impact, we are surely in a housing recession, because builders are not building,” said Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the Realtors. “However, are homeowners in a recession? Absolutely not. Homeowners are still very comfortable financially.”

The July sales figures are based on closings, so the contracts were most likely signed in May and June. Mortgage rates spiked in June, with the average rate on the 30-year fixed loan crossing 6%, according to Mortgage News Daily. It then settled back into the high 5% range. The rate started this year around 3%, so the hit to affordability in June was hard, especially coupled with soaring inflation.

Homebuyers are also still contending with tight supply. There were 1.31 million homes for sale at the end of July, unchanged from July 2021. At the current sales pace, that represents a 3.3-month supply.

While demand is falling off because of weaker affordability, prices remain stubbornly high. The median price of a home sold in July was $403,800, an increase of 10.8% year over year. Price gains are now moderating, however, as that is the smallest annual increase since July 2020.

“The median home sales price continued to climb but at a slower pace for the fifth consecutive month, shining a light on how downshifting buyer demand is moving the housing market back toward a more normal pace of activity,” said Danielle Hale, the chief economist for Realtor.com. “A look at active inventory trends shows that home listings were nearly twice as likely to have had a price cut in July 2022 compared to one year ago.”

Sales activity continues to be stronger on the higher end of the market, although that, too, is fading fast. There is simply more supply available on the top tiers. Sales of homes priced between $100,000 and $250,000 were 31% lower compared with the year before, while sales of homes priced between $750,000 and $1 million were down by 8%. Sales of homes priced above $1 million fell by 13% from a year ago.

First-time buyers represented just 29% of buyers in July. Historically they usually make up about 40% of sales, but they are clearly struggling the most with affordability. High rents are also making it harder for them to save for down payments.

Even as sales slow, it is still a fast-moving market. A typical home in July went under contract in just 14 days, which matches the fastest ever recorded in June. A year ago, it was 17 days. Yun, of the National Association of Realtors, called that “unusual.”