The Mortgage Corner

The spring home buying season is already here, reports Realtor.com. In February, the total number of single-family homes, condos, townhomes and co-ops for sale in the U.S. (1,494,218) increased by 1.15 percent month-over-month. On an annual basis, however, inventory was down by 15.97 percent.

"As we enter the busiest time of the year for home buyers and sellers, our latest housing trend data shows just how competitive the market is with a significant national housing recovery well underway," said Steve Berkowitz, chief executive officer of parent company Move, Inc. "Looking ahead, we can expect the amount of inventory to increase this spring along with higher list prices as sellers become more comfortable with the market conditions."

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Graph: Calculated Risk

Nearly all of the markets with the largest year-over-year declines in February for sale inventories were in California, where declines averaged 48 percent. The list includes Sacramento, Stockton, Oakland, San Jose, Orange County, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Riverside and Ventura. These markets also experienced a dramatic decline in the median age of inventory, falling to an average of just 31 days, or 53 percent lower than it was one year ago.

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Graph: DataQuick

The result is sharply rising prices. Six-county Southern California saw the February median home price rise nearly 21 percent over the year, while remaining essentially flat compared with January, said real estate information provider DataQuick last week.

That is the main reason February housing construction soared. Privately-owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 917,000. This is 0.8 percent above the revised January estimate of 910,000 and is 27.7 percent above the February 2012 rate of 718,000, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

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Graph: Calculated Risk

Single-family starts (blue) increased to 618,000 thousand in February and are at the highest level since June 2008. “Today’s report indicates that, despite some bumps in the road, overall housing production continues on the solid upward trend that we saw throughout 2012,” noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Moreover, further gains in permit issuance are a positive sign that home construction will continue to drive economic and job growth in the coming months, albeit at a slower pace than would be possible without certain limiting factors.”

Gary Wood’s Santa Barbara MLS listings plunged 18.7 percent in February for South Coast, while the median price soared $100,000, from $842,490 to $935,000. The lower-priced inventories are disappearing, in other words. Year over year sales are up about 15 percent with the median sales price up at about the same rate to roughly $890,000.

The lack of lower-priced inventory is apparent with the average sales price way up, going from just over $1 million in 2012 to approximately $1.5 million in 2013. The numbers of escrows are also up about 15 percent with the median list price on those escrows up almost 20 percent. That is putting even more pressure on prices. Through the end of February sales and prices for both the Home Estate/PUD and Condo markets are up with about 35 percent of the homes going for over the asking price and about 15 percent of the condos also selling for over list prices.

Harlan Green © 2013

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