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Archive for Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Hot housing market cooling

March 7, 2006

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The five-year housing boom is indeed over, judging from growing statistical evidence and the performance of some of the nation's leading builders, and the slowdown already is rippling through the economy.

In the last week, the Commerce Department reported that January sales of new single-family homes fell 5 percent - the fourth decline in seven months - and the backlog of unsold new homes hit a record. And the National Association of Realtors said used home sales slipped 2.8 percent in January, the fourth straight drop and 5 percent below January 2005.

Builders also reported a few hiccups. Upscale Toll Brothers Inc. said signed contracts in the November-January period fell 21 percent from a year ago, and KB Home reported more buyers backing out of contracts.

William Mack, a housing analyst for Standard & Poor's, predicted "a soft landing. The overall market is just taking a step back."

Explanations for the recent cooling-off vary. Many people bought homes during the past five years and are staying put. Some analysts blame a decline in consumer confidence. And interest rates have been rising, especially for adjustable mortgages that allowed people to buy more expensive homes than they could have afforded with a 30-year loan.

The median price of an existing single-family home has declined since peaking at $219,700 in July to $210,500 in January, according to the National Association of Realtors. Few analysts expect a sharp drop in national averages, although they say there could be further declines in some areas that have been among the hottest markets in recent years.

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