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U.S. house price growth slows, sales down

Staff Writer |
House prices in the U.S. continued to rise at a steep pace in March amid continued strong demand and low inventories which more than offset slightly higher mortgage rates.

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The Federal Housing Finance Agency's index of house prices advanced at a 0.6% month-on-month clip, which was down from a 0.8% pace observed in February.

"The steep, multi-year rise in U.S. home prices continued in the first quarter. Mortgage rates during the quarter remained slightly elevated relative to most of last year, but demand for homes remained very strong. With housing inventories still languishing at extremely low levels, the strong demand led to another exceptionally large quarterly price increase," said FHFA Deputy chief economist Andrew Leventis.

In terms of quarterly rates of change, in comparison to the fourth quarter prices were 1.39% higher after rising 1.54% over the previous three months.

Year-on-year price gains slowed from a 6.22% clip in the last quarter of 2016 to 6.0% in the first three months of 2017.

Sales of US existing home sales fell more than expected in April, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

Sales were down 2.3% to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.57m from a downwardly-revised 5.70m in March, missing expectations for a smaller drop to 5.65m.

The median price for an existing home was $244,800, up 6% from April last year and marking the 62nd straight month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory, meanwhile, was up 7.2% to 1.93m existing homes available for sale, but is still 9% below last year and has fallen for 23 consecutive months year over year.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said: "Last month's dip in closings was somewhat expected given that there was such a strong sales increase in March at 4.2%, and new and existing inventory is not keeping up with the fast pace homes are coming off the market.

"Demand is easily outstripping supply in most of the country and it's stymieing many prospective buyers from finding a home to purchase.

"Realtors continue to voice the frustration their clients are experiencing because of the insufficient number of homes for sale.

"Homes in the lower- and mid-market price range are hard to find in most markets, and when one is listed for sale, interest is immediate and multiple offers are nudging the eventual sales prices higher."

Pantheon Macroeconomics said the trend is rising despite the April dip. "The data are captured at closing, which means

April sales reflect deals agreed in March, when severe weather struck parts of the country.

Moreover, March sales were elevated, following very mild weather in February, so this is nothing more than a correction. The upturn in mortgage applications in recent months should lift sales over the summer."

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