The Triangle housing market ended the year just as it began, with sales increasing by double digits while the number of homes on the market kept dropping.
Home sales increased 22 percent in December compared with the same period a year ago, and were up 17 percent in the fourth quarter, Triangle Multiple Listing Services data show. Sales for the year were up 24 percent over 2012, while showings were up 15 percent.
The 29,519 homes that sold last year in Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties were the most since 2007.
But the regions inventory remains at historic lows, a trend that has been stubbornly in place for the past 18 months.
The region now has just a three-month supply of homes on the market at the current pace of sales. There were 6,632 homes on the market at the end of the year, down 10 percent from the same period a year ago and off 27 percent from two years ago.
There is not a day that goes by that either I dont send out an email to agents in the marketplace or I get more than one saying, Ive got this buyer in need, and its just not out there, and do you have anything coming online? said Kelly Cobb, a real estate agent with Fonville Morisey in Cary. Its a terrible shortage.
Cobb said her team recorded 50 percent more sales last year than in 2012, but we did it with a lot less inventory.
She attributed the shortage mainly to the fact that many sellers still cant get what they paid for their homes.
I think some people have waited it out and hoped that we would return to 2006 pricing, and were still not there yet. Some question how long that might take, Cobb said.
The dynamic of steady demand and abnormally low inventory could remain in place through the spring selling season, as most market observers are expecting the Triangle to see price appreciation of no more than 4 percent in 2014. The average sales price of the homes that sold last year was $246,700, up 4 percent from 2012.
Mark Parker, vice president of sales for Fonville Moriseys Stonehenge office in North Raleigh, said the double-digit year-over-year sales gains will likely dissipate in 2014.
I dont think were going to see that kind of growth year after year, he said. Its going to be ... decent gains but fairly steady. ... Inventory shortage is kind of whats holding us back right now.
Among the factors that could affect sales is interest rates, which could rise as the Federal Reserve begins tapering its bond buying program that has kept rates at historically low levels.
Parker predicts that interest rates will rise, but likely by half a percentage point and not enough to scare people away.
The improving market in 2013 did allow many people to sell their homes more quickly.
The average days on the market of the homes that sold last year was 78, down from 116 in 2012. Forty-six percent of existing home sales last year closed within 30 days of being placed on the market, up from 35 percent in 2012.
The markets very healthy. Its growing at a sustainable rate, as opposed to recent years when we had the bubble and things were growing too fast, Parker said. The U.S. housing market looks good, but overall our local market looks very healthy.