May 21, 2020 / 2:02 PM / 4 days ago

U.S. existing home sales post largest decline in nearly 10 years

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. home sales logged their biggest drop in nearly 10 years in April as the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the labor market and broader economy, undercutting demand for housing.

FILE PHOTO: Construction workers build a single family home in San Diego, California, U.S. February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The National Association of Realtors said on Thursday existing home sales plunged 17.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.33 million units last month. The percentage decline was the largest since July 2010.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast existing home would decrease 18.9% to a rate of 4.30 million units in April.

Existing home sales, which make up about 90% of U.S. home sales, dropped 17.2% on a year-on-year basis in April.

The report came on the heels of data on Tuesday showing a record collapse in homebuilding and permits in April.

It added to a plunge in retail sales and manufacturing production last month in strengthening economists’ predictions for the biggest contraction in gross domestic product in the second quarter since the Great Depression.

The worst of the housing market slump is likely behind as the country reopens after a near total shutdown since mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

With at least 21.4 million people losing their jobs in March and April, however, the housing market could remain subdued for a while even with mortgage rates near record lows.

Home sales last month declined in all four regions.

There were 1.47 million previously owned homes on the market in April, the lowest on record for the month and down 19.7% from a year ago. The NAR said some sellers had either withdrawn or withheld their properties from the market following the stay-at-home orders.

The median existing house price jumped 7.4% from a year ago to a record $286,800 in April. At April’s sales pace, it would take 4.1 months to exhaust the current inventory, down from 4.2 months a year ago. A six-to-seven-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao

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