From the Chicago Sun-Times, March 25, 2008
Sales of existing homes increased unexpectedly in February after six months of decline across the country as median sales prices fell sharply.
But in the Chicago area, different trends prevailed. In February, the region's sales of existing homes fell 27 percent to 4,310 homes while average prices were steady, according to a report Monday from the Illinois Association of Realtors.
The report said the median sales price in the nine-county area rose 0.1 percent compared with February 2007 to $240,230.
"Illinois is certainly revealing, through both job growth and state revenue collections, that it is bucking the national trend in the first quarter of the year," said Geoffrey Hewings, director of the Regional Economic Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois. Hewings helps the Illinois Realtors group prepare its sales data.
The closely watched Chicago condominium market had mixed results last month. The Realtors' report said Chicago condo sales volume was down nearly 10 percent from February 2007 to 1,047 units. At the same time, the median price rose 10.5 percent to $314,900.
Analysts said the market is finding strength in mortgage rates that have remained generally low. Interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans are close to 6 percent locally.
The national data in a report from the National Association of Realtors showed sales of existing homes rose by 2.9 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.03 million units. It marked the first sales increase since last July, but even with the gain sales were still 23.8 percent below where they were a year ago.
The national report also said the median sales price for single-family homes and condominiums dropped to $195,900, a fall of 8.2 percent from a year ago, the biggest slide in the current housing slump. The median price for just single-family homes was down 8.7 percent from a year ago, the biggest decline in four decades.
Wall Street, which had been expecting another decline in sales, was encouraged by the February increase. But economists said they still believed any sustained rebound was many months away.
''The hemorrhaging has stopped but the recovery will be long, slow and painful,'' said Bernard Baumohl, managing director of the Economic Outlook Group. ''It's unlikely that we will see any sustained jump in home purchases, much less higher prices, until mid-2009 at the earliest.''
Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors, said that some formerly hot markets in California and Florida were seeing significant price declines now as sellers are cutting prices to attract buyers.