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US new-home sales collapse in March

home buildersWASHINGTON — Sales of new U.S. homes plummeted in March, as the spring buying season opened with sharp declines in the Northeast and South.

The Commerce Department said late last week that new-home sales fell 11.4 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. This marks a swift reversal from an annual sales pace of 543,000 in February, which had been the strongest performance in seven years.

New-homes sales last month plunged 15.8 percent in the South and 33 percent in the Northeast, while the West registered a slight loss and the Midwest reported a modest gain. The median sales price fell 1.7 percent from March 2014 to $277,400.

Data for the Charlotte region was not available.

According to the most recent figures from MetroStudy, year-over-year closings on new homes in the Charlotte area rose 5.5 percent to 2,325 in the fourth quarter of 2014. New-home builders started construction on 2,058 homes, up 1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013.

Total inventory – models, finished vacant unoccupied new homes, and new homes under construction – equaled 4,596 units in the fourth quarter, slightly above the amount recorded in the fourth quarter of 2013.

MetroStudy attributed the rise in quarterly housing development to Charlotte’s relatively strong economy.

Nationally, the purchase of new homes has been volatile on a monthly basis. Winter storms in January and February closed construction sites and likely pushed back potential March sales to later in the year. At the same time, a year-long hiring spree coupled with low mortgage rates has expanded the number of people shopping for a home.

In a separate report from the National Association of Realtors, sales of existing homes in March rose 6.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million. But that increase has caused tight inventories and higher prices that may help make new construction — which is usually pricier — more attractive. The existing-home market had just 4.6 months of supply nationwide, well below the six months of supply that economists say reflects a healthy market.

The number of all homes sold in the Charlotte area jumped 41.2 percent in March from February, after decreasing 4.1 percent in February from January, according to the Charlotte Regional Realtors Association.

Year over year, Charlotte area home sales in March were up 20.3 percent with 3,195 properties sold, compared with 2,655 home sales in March 2014.

In Charlotte, low inventory levels and high demand pushed up the average sales price in March 9.1 percent to $234,351 compared with last March’s $213,025. The median sales price in March was 9.9 percent higher than in March 2014. The CRRA reported in March that inventory was at a 3.9 month supply.

Meanwhile, some homeowners are choosing to renovate instead of selling their home and upgrading. An index measuring renovation plans by Houzz, an online firm for home remodeling and design, rose during the first three months of this year compared to the end of 2014. General contractors and landscaping firms were particularly optimistic that their business would continue to improve, Houzz reported Wednesday.

— Mecklenburg Times staff writer Roberta Fuchs contributed to this report

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