Sales of newly-built homes surged in May

June 24, 2014, 2:28 PM UTC
A new home for sale.
A new home for sale.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg—Getty Images

New home sales jumped a better-than-expected 19% in May from the prior month, as the sector posts a sturdy performance so far this spring that has helped push housing inventory lower and kept a lid on price increases.

Sales of new single-family homes in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 504,000, above the downwardly revised April rate of 425,000, according to the Commerce Department. Economists had expected new-home sales to total 441,000 in May, according to a survey by Bloomberg News.

The May figure was 17% higher than a year ago.

The housing sector suffered a mixed performance earlier this year, which many attributed to the severe winter weather. Until some rosy data this week signaled an upswing in demand, the sector hadn’t yet posted a meaningful recovery as it progressed into the key spring and summer home-buying season. Some have worried demand is constrained by reluctance by lenders to approve mortgage applications and low participation from first-time homebuyers, among other factors.

But recent data have suggested trends are improving. On Monday, the National Association of Realtors reported existing-home sales jumped a stronger-than-expected 4.9% in May from the prior month. Housing inventory grew for the month, which bodes well for slower price growth, though the organization said more new home construction is needed to keep prices and housing supply healthy in the long run.

The Commerce Department also reported housing pricing data for May, reporting the median sales price for new homes sold last month totaled $282,000, up 2.2% from April. Meanwhile, S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices on Tuesday reported home prices rose in April, though the month-to-month gains are at a slower rate than earlier in the year. Home-price growth in many large cities in the West, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Francisco, has slowed, according to S&P/Case-Shiller data.

Inventory of new homes at the end of May totaled 189,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis, representing a supply of 4.5 months at the current sales rate, the Commerce Department said. Inventory at the end of April stood at 192,000, a 5.3-month supply.