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Existing Home Sales: A Look At Numbers That Weren't There

Thursday, 24 Jul 2008 | 1:40 PM ET
AP

While everyone busies themselves today parsing the existing homes data from the National Association of Realtors: sales down 2.6 percent in June, inventories spiking up again to an 11.1 month supply, and prices falling 6.1 percent, I need to focus on something that wasn’t in the table of this particular report.

Realtors are now estimating that anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of existing home sales now are either foreclosure sales by banks that repossessed properties or short sales by desperate owners whose lenders agreed to take a hit on the principle of the loan just to get the home sold.

And that doesn’t even include auction sales, where banks are unloading hundreds of homes in one day at bargain-basement prices.

Think about that. That means that by summer’s end, if things go the way they’re going, nearly half of all home sales in this country will be of homes in some kind of financial distress. If existing home sales are now running at an annualized rate of 4.86 million units, that’s around 2 million homes.

I asked the NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, what to make of that:

"Well in terms of home sales activity, economic impact, people moving, its all, whether it’s foreclosed sales, short sales, normal sales, it’s all into the same bucket, so it doesn’t really matter too much because it depends upon the country. If one person goes to places like Dallas where prices are holding on, Charlotte, there’s very little short sales, foreclosed sales. If people want to buy a home in California, it will be a short sale. It will be a foreclosed sale."

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I have to say, and no offense to Mr. Yun, but I think that’s a tap dance. It does matter. It says that sales of normal existing homes with no financial issues, that is Americans who are fine with their mortgages, have fallen to somewhere just above a two million dollar annualized rate. It means that the two million people buying all those foreclosed properties are not buying regular properties where sellers are more apt to hold prices higher. Think about that, and what it will mean down the road.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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