February 21, 2019 / 3:09 PM / 3 months ago

U.S. existing home sales fall sharply to three-year low

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. home sales fell in January to their lowest level in more than three years and house prices rose only modestly, suggesting a further loss of momentum in the housing market.

FILE PHOTO - A sold sign hangs in front of a house in Dallas, Texas September 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

The National Association of Realtors said on Thursday existing home sales dropped 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million units last month.

That was the lowest level since November 2015 and well below analysts’ expectations of a rate of 5.0 million units. December’s sales pace was revised slightly higher.

The drop in January came after months of weakness in the U.S. housing market. Existing home sales were down 8.5 percent from a year ago.

The U.S. housing market has been stymied by a sharp rise in mortgage rates since 2016 as well as land and labor shortages. That has led to tight inventory and more expensive homes.

At the same time, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has dipped in recent months and house price inflation is slowing.

The median existing house price increased 2.8 percent from a year ago to $247,500 in January. That was the smallest increase since February 2012.

Last month, existing home sales fell in three of the country’s four major regions, rising only in the Northeast.

There were 1.59 million previously owned homes on the market in January, up from 1.53 million in December.

At January’s sales pace, it would take 3.9 months to exhaust the current inventory, up from 3.7 months in December. A supply of six to seven months is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Paul Simao

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