WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home sales rose slightly last month as the Houston housing market quickly recovered from Hurricane Harvey. Still, a shortage of available homes is thwarting many would-be buyers and limiting sales.
The National Association of Realtors said Friday existing home sales increased 0.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million. That's the first increase after three months of declines.
Yet sales have fallen 1.5 percent from a year ago, the first year-over-year decline since July 2016. That's because so few homes are for sale, particularly at lower prices. Buyers have bid up prices: The median home price rose to $245,100, up 4.2 percent from a year ago. That's faster than wage gains.
And sales are likely to remain sluggish in the coming months, the Realtors said. Construction workers — and building materials such as lumber — are being diverted to repair and rebuilding work in the aftermath of the storms and the wildfires on California. That should slow new home building and limit the number of homes for sale.
The number of homes for sale sank 6.4 percent from 12 months ago to 1.9 million homes, the fewest in any September since the Realtors began tracking the number in 2001.
In Houston, sales rose 4 percent from a year ago after plunging 25 percent in August. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors' group, said some of that gain may reflect investors purchasing damaged properties.
In Florida, Hurricane Irma sharply lowered sales last month, which were 22 percent lower than a year ago, the Realtors said.
Sales fell more than 15 percent from a year earlier in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, according to real estate brokerage Redfin. Sales in Miami plunged 38.4 percent.
"The housing market is running on fumes due to low inventory," said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. "The inventory shortage is most severe for affordable homes. There has not been an increase in homes priced under $260,000 in two years."