Home sales numbers say keep it cheap

A mortgage application

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Existing home sales numbers come out in a few hours, and there won't be a whole lot to celebrate if you're trying to sell a house. Here's Steve Tripoli.


Steve Tripoli: Independent housing economist Thomas Lawler thinks sales will inch up just a bit with today's numbers. But they're coming off what he calls "horrific" lows.

Lawler also expects a slight improvement in inventories. There was a 10.8-month backlog of homes for sale in October, and he thinks it will drop to 10.3 months worth.

Thomas Lawler: Which is still exceedingly high, but it's just not as horrific.

Certainly not if you're buying a home. And if you're selling, Lawler says today's numbers plus other recent sale and price figures hold an unmistakable message:

Lawler: For people or builders who are willing to slash prices to move homes, they can move homes. But if they're still trying to get anything close to year-ago levels, it will just stay on the market 'til the cows come home.

Even with lower prices, the credit crunch means fewer folks can qualify for mortgages these days. And in many markets, prices still aren't affordable relative to what people earn.

So it looks like more downward price pressure ahead. Happy New Year, buyers.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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