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Home sales nationwide drop to 19-month low; Summit sales up from a year ago, but down from January

By Christopher S. Rugaber
Associated Press

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WASHINGTON: Cold temperatures and snow appear to have put a chill on statewide home sales, mirroring the national trend.

Locally, sales were up from February a year ago, but lost momentum from January.

Nationwide, home sales slipped in February to their lowest level since July 2012 as severe winter weather, rising prices and a tight supply of homes slowed buyers.

In Summit County, 318 homes changed hands last month. That’s up 10 percent from the 289 sold in February last year but down from the 344 sold in January, according to the Akron Area Board of Realtors.

Summit home sales are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

Sale prices in Summit County were up from a year ago, with the median price in February climbing 7.2 percent from $98,900 to $106,000. The median for February 2012 was much lower — $80,250. Home prices in 2012 were being pulled down by purchases of lower-priced, foreclosed and other so-called distressed properties on the market.

Statewide, sales of homes and condominiums in February dropped 5.5 percent to 7,042 from the 7,449 level during the month a year ago.

Sales across the state in February also declined 0.8 percent from January’s upwardly revised figure of 6,983.

Meanwhile, sale prices, on the average, were up statewide, rising to $130,082 last month. That’s a 4 percent increase from the $125,061 mark posted during February last year.

The Ohio Association of Realtors does not provide a median price.

The National Association of Realtors said sales declined 0.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.6 million. That was the sixth decline in the past seven months.

Freezing temperatures and snowstorms likely kept many buyers from visiting open houses.

There were some signs that the market could pick up in the coming months. Sales improved in the South and West, where weather was less of a factor. And more people decided to sell, boosting the supply of available homes 6.4 percent to 2 million.

“Once we get past this messy period, housing should assume its role in supporting overall growth,” Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a note to clients.

Home prices are rising despite the sluggish sales, a sign that the number of homes for sale remains low. The median sales price has risen 9.1 percent in the past year, the Realtors said, to $189,000.

Investors are accounting for an increasing share of purchases, while first-time buyers remain historically low. All-cash sales, which are mostly by investors, rose to 35 percent of purchases in February, up from 32 percent a year ago.

First-time buyers accounted for only 28 percent of sales in February, slightly more than in January. That’s far below the 40 percent that’s typical of a healthy market. First-time buyers are being held back by tight credit standards and high levels of student loan debt, the Realtors said.

Sales of existing homes climbed steadily in the first half of last year, reaching an annual pace of 5.38 million in July. And sales totaled 5.1 million in all of 2013, the most in seven years. That’s still below the 5.5 million that is consistent with a healthy housing market.

Sales have fallen 14 percent since July.

The average interest rate on a 30-year mortgage slipped to 4.32 percent last week from 4.37 percent. Rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows last spring.

Beacon Journal business writer Katie Byard contributed to this report.

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