2023 was slowest year for US home sales in nearly 30 years as high mortgage rates frustrated buyers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes sank in 2023 to a nearly 30-year low as mortgage rates climbed to the highest level in more than two decades and prices hit record highs, pushing homeownership out of reach for many Americans.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that existing U.S. home sales totaled 4.09 million last year, an 18.7% decline from 2022. That is the weakest year for home sales since 1995 and the biggest annual decline since 2007, the start of the housing slump of the late 2000s.

The median national home price for all of last year edged up just under 1% to record high of $389,800, the NAR said.

Mortgage rates surged in 2023, climbing to a two-decade high of 7.08% by late October as the Federal Reserve continued to boost its key lending rate in a quest to cool the economy and tame inflation.

The sharply higher home loan borrowing costs limited home hunters’ buying power on top of years of soaring prices. A stubbornly low level of homes for sale also kept many would-be homebuyers and sellers on the sidelines.

Mortgage rates have been mostly easing since November, echoing a pullback in the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use as a guide to pricing loans. The yield has largely come down on hopes that inflation has cooled enough for the Federal Reserve to shift to cutting interest rates this year.

The average rate on a 30-year home loan was 6.6% this week, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. If rates continue to ease, as many economists expect, that should help boost demand heading into the spring homebuying season, which traditionally begins in late February.

Still, the average rate remains sharply higher than just two years ago, when it was 3.56%. That large gap between rates now and then has helped limit the number of previously occupied homes on the market by discouraging homeowners who locked in rock-bottom rates from selling.

Despite easing mortgage rates, existing home sales fell 1% in December from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.78 million, the slowest sales pace since August 2010, the NAR said.

December’s sales fell 6.2% from a year earlier. Last month’s sales pace is short of the roughly 3.83 million that economists were expecting, according to FactSet.

“The latest month’s sales look to be the bottom before inevitably turning higher in the new year,” said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist. “Mortgage rates are meaningfully lower compared to just two months ago, and more inventory is expected to appear on the market in upcoming months.”

Home prices continued to rise last month. The national median home sales price rose 4.4% in December from a year earlier to $382,600, the NAR said.