Sales of existing homes fell more than expected in April while prices slid for a record ninth consecutive month, indicating further troubles ahead for the housing market.
The National Association of Realtors reported Friday that sales of existing homes dropped by 2.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.99 million units, the slowest sales pace in nearly four years.
The median price of a home fell to $220,900, an 0.8 percent decline from the median price a year ago. The median is the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less.
The slide in existing home sales came after a report Thursday that showed a big 16.2 percent surge in sales of new homes in April that occurred as the median price of a new home fell by a record 11.1 percent from the previous month.
Analysts said the disparity in sales of new and existing homes for April reflected in part the decision by builders to aggressively cut prices to unload inventory while homeowners are still reluctant to lower their asking prices.
“It is only a matter of time before homeowners realize that the dream is over and that price cuts are now necessary to sell their homes,” said Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, a Darien, Conn., investment firm.
The supply of existing homes for sale shot up to a record total of 4.2 million in April, an increase of 394,000 from the March supply. Analysts predicted that this big inventory surge would act to further depress prices.
“We’re swimming in supply,” said Mike Larson, a real estate analyst with Weiss Research, who cited a number of factors for the unsold homes.
“Unrealistic sellers, stuck flippers, stretched borrowers, foreclosures. They’re all contributing to a surge in homes on the market,” he said.
Housing enjoyed a boom in which sales of both new and existing homes set records for five straight years until 2006. The Realtors are forecasting that existing home prices could decline by around 2 percent this year, which would be the first setback for an entire year on records that go back four decades.
But Lawrence Yun, senior economist for the Realtors, noted that the expected price decline would still be modest in comparison to the 50 percent appreciation in home prices that occurred during the boom period.
It had appeared that housing sales might be hitting a bottom at the end of last year. However, since that time, the troubles in the mortgage market, which has seen many subprime lenders forced to stop operations, has worsened the housing downturn. Subprime mortgages were made available to borrowers with weak credit histories.
“We’ve been anticipating slower home sales because many subprime loan products are no longer available,” Yun said. “Fortunately, a wide availability of conventional mortgage products ... will help stabilize the market going forward.”
Yun said the big rise in unsold homes on the market could be an indication that sellers are testing the market in the early spring in hopes of selling their homes and moving up to larger units, which he said would be a positive sign of a rebound in housing.
But other analysts were not as optimistic, expressing concerns that housing could remain under downward pressure for the rest of this year and stage only a modest recovery in 2008.
“The continued decline in existing home sales and the huge rise in inventories put in doubt the hopes that the housing market is stabilizing,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors.
The troubles in housing have acted to depress overall economic activity which slowed to a growth rate of just 1.3 percent in the first three months of this year, the slowest economic growth rate in four years.
For April, sales of existing homes were weak in all parts of the country. The Northeast experienced the biggest decline, a fall of 8.8 percent in April from the March sales pace. Sales were down 1.7 percent in the West, 1.2 percent in the South and 0.7 percent in the Midwest.