Still Stuck in the Mud

Existing home sales are like a Jeep with bald tires stuck in a mud bog: The wheels spin furiously, but the Jeep goes nowhere. Not only does the Jeep go nowhere, it backslides.

So is the case with existing-home sales. For the seventh time in the past eight months, sales have backslid. Sales for March were 0.2% lower compared to February, posting at 4.59 million on an annualized rate. Year over year, sales are down 7.5%, which is the steepest rate of decline in nearly three years. Prices, on the other hand, continue to rise, with the median price moving up 5.4% to $198,000.

Now, new-home sales are adding to the sense of discouragement.

New-home sales had been trending mostly up over the past 12 months. That trend ground to a halt in March, with sales plunging 14.5% to a 384,000 annual rate , far below anyone's estimate.

Prices are an obvious drag on sales. The median price of a new home surged 11.2% to a record high $290,000. Year over year, prices are up 12.6%.

Prices in many markets are a baffling anomaly. They continue to rise, but they're not materially pulling in additional inventory. Admittedly, if you sell one home at a higher price, you'll likely have to buy another at a higher price, but rising prices tend to pull in more people willing to sell. In many markets this isn't occurring. Prices simply continue to rise, and continue to rise at a rate we thought would have abated by now.

Tight lending standards and higher mortgage rates are frequently fingered as culprits in stagnating home sales. Yes, lending standards are tighter than they were in 2006, but someone with a work history and a decent FICO score can still readily secure financing. As for rates, 4.5% continues to act as a ceiling on the 30-year fixed-rate loan. To be sure, rates spiked higher last summer, but the market should have adjusted to the new reality by now.

In the past, we've blamed a stagnating economy and weak job growth for sales failing to pick up pace. A dearth of new buyers entering the market is also to blame. One concern we have is ballooning student debt . A lot of young adults owe a lot on student-loan debt these days. That's making it tough for them to enter the housing market.

We remain positive, nonetheless. All markets are local, and all markets are complicated. There is a myriad of variables that influence value and establish trends. We think economic growth will overcome higher mortgage rates, and even higher home prices. Frustratingly, growth has been slow in coming about, but we still expect it to come sooner than later.

 Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

Search all Harrisburg PA homes for sale.

When you are buying or selling property in today's Harrisburg PA real estate market, it's important to have confidence in your real estate professional. Don’s commitment as your Harrisburg PA REALTOR® is to provide you with the specialized real estate service you deserve.

When you are an informed buyer or seller, you'll make the best decisions for the most important purchase or sale in your lifetime. That's why Don’s goal is to keep you informed on trends in Harrisburg PA real estate. With property values continuing to rise, real estate is a sound investment for now and for the future.

As a local area expert with knowledge of Harrisburg PA area communities, Don’s objective is to work diligently to assist you in meeting your real estate goals.

If you are considering buying or selling a home or would just like to have additional information about real estate in your area, please don't hesitate to call me at (717) 657-8700, complete my online form, or e-mail me at