By JAMES R. HAGERTY
The supply of houses and condominiums available for sale continues to grow quickly in much of the U.S., reflecting weak sales.
The number of homes listed for sale in 18 major metropolitan areas at the end of April was up 7% from March, according to data compiled by ZipRealty Inc., a national real-estate brokerage firm in Emeryville, Calif. The data cover listings of single-family homes, condos and town houses on local multiple-listing services.
The increase was above the seasonal norm. Over the past 22 years, home inventories nationwide have increased an average of 4.5% in April from March, according to Credit Suisse Group. Spring is the busiest time of year for home shopping, as families with children try to get settled ahead of the next school year.
Some of the biggest increases last month were in the metro areas of San Francisco, up about 19%; Washington, 17%; Orange County, Calif., 15%; and Seattle, 14%. Inventories declined nearly 1% in the Los Angeles area, according to Zip.
In a report issued yesterday, Ivy Zelman, a Cleveland-based housing analyst for Credit Suisse, said her building-industry contacts have been surprised by the weakness of sales recently, "given the typical seasonal bounce that occurs at this time of year." She added, "Our contacts have officially declared the spring selling season a bust." Many people who had expected a recovery by year end "now believe the market rebound will be pushed out until 2008 at the earliest," Ms. Zelman wrote.
After booming in the first half of this decade, the housing market began cooling in much of the country in 2005. Since then, prices have been flat to declining in many areas. In recent months, an abrupt tightening of lending standards has further sapped the market by preventing some potential buyers from getting loans.
The National Association of Realtors yesterday again lowered its forecast, predicting that sales of previously occupied homes will total 6.29 million, down 2.9% from 2006. A month ago, the trade group projected that sales this year would slip 2.2%. Lawrence Yun, a senior economist for the Realtors, said many speculators have fled the market.
"It's good that we're getting beyond the tendency of some buyers to view housing as a temporary asset to accumulate short-term wealth, which is not to be expected in a normal market," he wrote.
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