WASHINGTON (October 21, 2014) – After a modest decline last month, existing-home sales bounced back in September to their highest annual pace of the year, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All major regions except for the Midwest experienced gains in September.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.17 million in September from 5.05 million in August. Sales are now at their highest pace of 2014, but still remain 1.7 percent below the 5.26 million-unit level from last September.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the improved demand for buying seen since the spring has carried into the fall. “Low interest rates and price gains holding steady led to September’s healthy increase, even with investor activity remaining on par with last month’s marked decline,” he said. “Traditional buyers are entering a less competitive market with fewer investors searching for available homes, but may also face a slight decline in choices due to the fact that inventory generally falls heading into the winter.”

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in September was $209,700, which is 5.6 percent above September 2013. This marks the 31st consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of September fell 1.3 percent to 2.30 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.3-month supply at the current sales pace. Despite fewer homes for sale in September, unsold inventory is still 6.0 percent higher than a year ago, when there were 2.17 million existing homes available for sale.

All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in September, up slightly from August (23 percent) but down from 33 percent in September of last year. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in September, up from 12 percent last month but below September 2013 (19 percent). Sixty-three percent of investors paid cash in September.

According to Freddie Mac, after falling for four consecutive months, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.16 percent in September from 4.12 percent in August. Despite the slight increase, interest rates are 33 basis points less than a year ago (4.49 percent).

“Economic instability overseas is leading to volatility in the stock market and is causing investors to seek safer bets, which will likely keep interest rates in upcoming weeks hovering near or below where they are now,” said Yun. “This is welcoming news for consumers looking to buy, although they could temporarily become more cautious by less certain economic conditions.”

The percent share of first-time buyers continues to underperform historically, remaining at 29 percent for the third consecutive month. First-time buyers have represented less than 30 percent of all buyers in 17 of the past 18 months.

Distressed homes4 – foreclosures and short sales – increased slightly in September to 10 percent from 8 percent in August, but are down from 14 percent a year ago. Seven percent of September sales were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 14 percent below market value in September (same as in August), while short sales were discounted 14 percent (10 percent in August).

According to NAR President Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate, Inc., Realtors® in Dayton, Ohio, fewer distressed sales is good news for appraisers, who have faced undue pressure since the downturn. “An appraisal is an important part of the home buying and selling process,” he said. “With foreclosures and short sales falling closer to average levels, appraisers will have fewer distressed sales in their list of comparables when determining home valuations.”

Properties typically stayed on the market in September longer (56 days) than last month (53 days) and a year ago (50 days). Short sales were on the market for a median of 116 days in September, while foreclosures sold in 59 days and non-distressed homes typically took 55 days. Thirty-five percent of homes sold in September were on the market for less than a month.

Single-family home sales rose 2.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.56 million in September from 4.47 million in August, but remain 1.9 percent below the 4.65 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $210,300 in September, up 5.9 percent from September 2013.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 5.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in September from 580,000 in August, and are unchanged from the 610,000 unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price was $205,200 in September, which is 3.2 percent higher than a year ago.

Regionally, September existing-home sales in the Northeast climbed 1.5 percent to an annual rate of 680,000, but remain 1.4 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $249,800, which is 4.8 percent higher than a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales declined 5.6 percent to an annual level of 1.17 million in September, and remain 4.9 percent below September 2013. The median price in the Midwest was $165,100, up 4.9 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 5.0 percent to an annual rate of 2.12 million in September, and are now 1.4 percent above September 2013. The median price in the South was $180,900, up 5.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West jumped 7.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.20 million in September, but remain 4.0 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $294,200, which is 4.0 percent above September 2013.