December 19, 2018 / 3:01 PM / in a month

U.S. existing home sales unexpectedly rise in November

WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - U.S. home sales unexpectedly rose in November, but recorded their biggest annual decline in 7-1/2 years, adding to other data that have painted a grim picture of the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday existing home sales increased 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.32 million units last month. October’s sales pace was unrevised at 5.22 million units. Sales have now increased for two straight month.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast existing home sales falling 0.6 percent to a rate of 5.20 million units in November. Existing home sales, which make up about 90 percent of U.S. home sales, tumbled 7.0 percent from a year ago in November, the largest annual drop since May 2011.

Sales are down 2.3 percent in the first 11 months of this year compared to the same period last year.

The housing market is being constrained by higher mortgage rates as well as land and labor shortages, which have led to tight inventory. Though house price inflation has slowed significantly, it continues to outpace wage growth, sidelining some first-time homebuyers.

A survey on Monday showed confidence among single-family homebuilders dropped to more than a 2-1/2-year low in December. Single-family homebuilding dropped to a 1-1/2-year trough in November, government data showed on Tuesday.

There are concerns that the persistent weakness could spill over to the broader economy, which continues to be bolstered by robust consumer spending.

The softening housing market is not expected to discourage the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates when officials wrap up a two-day policy meeting later on Wednesday.

The U.S. central bank has increased borrowing costs three times this year. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate has risen more than 60 basis points this year to about 4.63 percent, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac.

Last month, existing home sales rose in the Northeast, Midwest and populous South. They fell in the West, likely affected by the wildfires in California.

There were 1.74 million previously owned homes on the market in November, up from 1.67 million a year ago. The inventory crunch is easing as demand slows especially in the West, which has seen a surge in house prices.

At November’s sales pace, it would take 3.9 months to exhaust the current inventory, down from 4.3 months in October and up from 3.5 months a year ago. A six-to-seven-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

The median existing house price increased 4.2 percent from a year ago to $257,700 in November. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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