By James R. Hagerty
The number of homes listed for sale rose only modestly in many parts of the U.S. in January, contrary to the usual big increase during the month. (See data.)
Housing analysts have been expecting more for-sale signs to sprout as banks catch up on a huge backlog of unresolved foreclosure cases and start putting more foreclosed properties on the market. That would likely put more downward pressure on prices, which have been stabilizing at the lower end of the market. But there is little sign that the expected buildup in inventory is happening.
The supply of homes available for sale in 27 major metropolitan areas at the end of January was up just 2.87% from a month earlier, according to figures compiled by ZipRealty Inc., a real estate brokerage firm based in Emeryville, Calif. The ZipRealty data cover all single-family homes, condominiums and town houses listed on local multiple-listing services in metro areas where the firm operates.
Inventories typically rise sharply in January after the holiday lull in home shopping. Zelman & Associates, a research firm, says that nationwide listings increased an average of 8.7% in January from the prior month between 1982 and 2008.
Ivy Zelman, chief executive of the firm, said it was surprising that there was no jump in January. But she said colder-than-usual weather may have caused some sellers to delay listings and that others may be waiting for a stronger market.
Compared with the year-earlier month, the January inventory in the 27 metro areas was down 22%.
The Zip data don’t cover New York City. Miller Samuel Inc., an appraisal firm in New York, reports there were 7,344 cooperative apartments and condominiums on the market in Manhattan at the end of January. That was up 10% from a month before but down 19% from January 2009.
An estimated 7.5 million households are behind on their mortgage payments or in the foreclosure process. Many of those homes eventually will hit the market, but government efforts to avert foreclosures are slowing that process as banks try to figure out which borrowers might be saved by reduced monthly payments.
Home sellers this spring may benefit as buyers rush to qualify for federal tax credits on purchases. To qualify for those credits, buyers must sign purchase contracts by the end of April and complete the transactions by the end of June.