Sales of new U.S. homes retreated in August from 9-year high

A contractor moves roofing material on a home under construction in San Ramon, California, on Jan. 20. Confidence among U.S. homebuilders dropped in February to a nine-month low as potential buyers stayed away, interrupting the steady progress residential real estate had built over the course of 2015. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris.

Purchases of new U.S. homes dropped in August after surging a month earlier to the fastest pace since 2007, representing a pause in momentum within residential real estate.

Sales fell 7.6 percent to a 609,000 annualized pace, from a revised 659,000 rate in the prior month that was the strongest since October 2007, figures from the Commerce Department showed Monday in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 600,000. Prices fell from a year earlier to the lowest level in almost two years.

Even with the decline in purchases last month, builder backlogs increased as the number of homes sold but not yet started climbed to a nine-year high. The pace of demand will help support further construction, ensuring the residential real-estate industry remains a help to the economy.

“It’s a correction after the extraordinarily strong numbers in July,” said Tom Simons, a money-market economist at Jefferies LLC in New York. “These data are volatile. The one word we can use to describe the housing sector is resilient.”

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The pace of purchases are running well above the 501,000 homes sold for all of 2015. Economists’ estimates for August ranged from 565,000 to 652,000 after a previously reported 654,000 in July.

The Commerce Department said there was 90 percent confidence that the change in sales last month ranged from an 18.3 percent drop to a 3.1 percent increase, underscoring the volatility of the data.

New-home sales, which account for about 10 percent of the market, are tabulated when contracts get signed. That’s why they are considered a timelier barometer of the residential market than purchases of previously owned dwellings. The latter are calculated when a contract closes, typically a month or two later.

The median sales price of a new property decreased 5.4 percent from August 2015 to $284,000.

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Purchases fell in three of four regions, including a 12.3 percent slump in the South, the area that makes up the bulk of nationwide sales. Purchases declined 2.4 percent in the Midwest, and climbed 8 percent in the West to the highest level since September 2007.

The supply of homes at the current sales rate rose to 4.6 months from 4.2 months in the prior month. There were 235,000 new houses on the market at the end of August.

Of the 609,000 homes sold in August, an annualized 214,000 were awaiting beginning construction, the most since May 2007.

From a year earlier, new-house sales rose 20.7 percent on an unadjusted basis.

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Recent housing data have been mixed, with declines in existing-home sales and new construction declining in August.

Purchases of previously owned houses, which make up the bulk of the market, disappointed in August. Those sales unexpectedly fell to a six-month low, according to the National Association of Realtors reported.

Residential starts declined more than projected in August as a plunge in the South, the biggest region for homebuilding, more than offset gains in the rest of the country, according to the Commerce Department.

At the same time, builder confidence climbed to an 11-month high in September, the National Association of Home Builders said a week ago.