WASHINGTON – U.S. sales of previously occupied homes surpassed the 5 million mark in May, the first time that’s happened in 3 1/2 years. The gain shows the housing recovery is strengthening.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that home resales rose 4.2 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.18 million. That’s up from April’s pace of 4.97 million.
Sales last exceeded 5 million in November 2009. During that month and October 2009, a home-buying tax credit briefly inflated the sales pace.
While the sales pace is still below the 5.5 million that is consistent with healthy markets, it has risen nearly 13 percent in the past 12 months.
And with a tight supply of homes on the market, the median sales price rose to $208,000 – the highest since July 2008.
Housing is now the strongest part of the economy in growth terms, said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
The housing recovery is looking more sustainable and should continue to boost economic growth this year, offsetting some of the drag from higher taxes and federal spending cuts.
Sales of previously occupied homes increased last month in every region of the country. They increased 8 percent in the Midwest, 4 percent in the South, 2.5 percent in the West and 1.6 percent in the Northeast.
The supply of homes for sales also grew, a sign that more homeowners are confident that they can lure buyers. The number of homes on the market rose 3.3 percent in May to 2.22 million. Still, inventories are 10 percent below year-ago levels.
The report showed that a critical part of the market remains weak, however. First-time buyers represented only 28 percent of buyers in May.
That’s down from 34 percent a year ago and significantly below more normal levels above 40 percent. The decline in first-time buyers suggests many younger Americas are unable to get financing.
Banks have raised lending standards since the housing crisis, requiring higher credit scores, larger down payments and more detailed employment records.