New-home sales sink 11% in November

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

USA Today

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of new homes plunged unexpectedly last month to the lowest level since April, a sign the housing market recovery will be rocky.

The Commerce Department says November sales fell 11.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 355,000 from a downwardly revised 400,000 in October. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected a 440,000 annual rate.

The report reflects a slump in demand following the extension of a deadline for first-time buyers to qualify for a tax credit. The incentive was set to expire at the end of November, but Congress pushed back the date to April 30 and expanded the program to include current homeowners who relocate.

“Buyer traffic is likely to be flat until spring,” predicted Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities.

First-time buyers will still be able to save up to $8,000, and homeowners who have lived in their current properties for at least five years can now claim a tax credit of up to $6,500. To qualify, buyers must ink a deal by the end of April and complete the transaction by the end of June.

November’s median sale price of $217,400 iwas down nearly 2% from $221,600 a year earlier, but up about 4% from October’s level of $209,400.

The only strong region was the Midwest, where sales rose 21%. Sales fell 21% in the South, 9% in the West and 3% in the Northeast.

Builders had 235,000 new homes for sale nationwide at the end of November. That was down 2% from October and the lowest inventory since April 1971. At the current weak sales pace, that still represents nearly eight months of supply.

Despite the poor showing from new home buyers, the housing market has been recovering from the worst downturn in decades, largely due to a massive infusion of federal assistance. The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that sales of previously occupied homes rose 7% in November to the highest level in nearly three years.

But builders aren’t brimming with enthusiasm. The National Association of Home Builders said last week that its index of industry confidence fell to the lowest level since June, reflecting concern that job losses and a slow economic recovery will continue to stifle demand.

Robert Toll, CEO of luxury builder Toll Brothers (TOL) said earlier this month that demand has been “choppy” after several strong months in the spring and summer.

“You just have to bite the finger, be patient, and wait until you see what comes out in the latter part of January, all of February and in the early part of March,” he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

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