Active listings in the U.S. climbed 4.9% in December year over year, but for-sale inventory is still below pre-pandemic levels.
LOS ANGELES — The recent pullback in mortgage rates is spurring more homeowners to put their homes up for sale, though the increases so far have been too modest to return the housing market’s inventory of available properties back to pre-pandemic levels.
The number of active listings, a tally of U.S. homes on the market that excludes those pending a finalized sale, climbed 4.9% to 714,176 in December from a year earlier, the biggest annual increase since June, according to data released this week by Realtor.com.
A big part of the increase was due to a 9.1% jump in new listings, or properties that made their market debut in December, which posted an annual increase for the second time after 17 months of declines.
As is typically the case, active listings declined in December from the previous month, falling 5.5%. But the drop was less than the typical decline of 6.8% to 13.2%, Realtor.com said.
While the pickup in home listings is a welcome development for prospective homebuyers, the housing market remains constrained with for-sale inventory still well below pre-pandemic levels.
Consider that active listings were down 30.9% in December compared to the same month in 2019, while new listings were down nearly 12%.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction for the housing market,” said Danielle Hale, Realtor.com’s chief economist. “But we’ll need to see this repeated not just in November and December, but into January and February in order to really turn around the inventory situation in the housing market.”
Many factors have contributed to the housing market’s chronic shortage of homes for sale, including more than a decade of below-average new home construction and demographic trends that have led to homeowners hanging on to their properties longer.
While homebuilders have stepped up construction, the biggest source of for-sale inventory is homeowners who put their home on the market. But years of soaring home prices and the large gap that exists between where mortgage rates are now and where they were just a couple of years ago has discouraged many who locked in rock-bottom rates from selling.
The average rate on a 30-year mortgage has declined in recent weeks since reaching 7.79% in late October, and was at 6.66% as of this week, according to Freddie Mac.
And housing economists expect that the average rate will continue to decline this year, though forecasts generally see it moving no lower than 6%.
That may not be enough to motivate many homeowners to sell, given that some two-thirds of U.S. homes have a mortgage with a rate under 4% and more than 90% have a rate below 6%.
That means the upcoming spring homebuying season is likely to favor sellers as homebuyers compete for a relatively limited number of homes for sale.
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