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New data out Tuesday showed surprising and potentially worrisome data points: single-digit percentage declines in the statewide and Greater Boston median home sale prices. But two leading market-watchers say they are likely artifacts of how few homes are for sale right now.

The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, reported that the median price of all homes sold statewide in April was $553,500, down 1.2 percent from April 2022. The median price of last month’s condominium sales fell further, by 3.1 percent to $513,500.

And in the 139 towns and cities within Interstate 495, the median single-family sale price dropped 4.8 percent to $690,000 while the median condo sale price fell 3 percent to $601,250.

The median home price doesn’t directly reflect home values, but its increase or decrease can give a good idea of how much activity is going on in a given housing market, and what direction home values are likely headed for anyone looking to buy or sell in the near future.

And, because home sales take at least a month, if not two, to go from an agreement to sell to a closed sale, April’s home price figures could represent shivers in the market that actually happened in the lead-up to Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse and its aftermath.

A Mathematical Artifact?

Taken together, it means the April price data shouldn’t be treated as a sign that the market is in trouble, said David McCarthy, operating partner at Keller Williams Boston|Metro and the 2023 president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

We had a very different market in January, February, March,” he said.

A key fact to remember, said Guaranteed Rate’s Shant Banosian, the state’s most prolific loan originator, is that with so few homes on the market these days, fewer or greater numbers of homes in different price brackets can skew the data.

“If there were more lower-priced homes put on the market in a given month, it’d look like the price was coming down,” he said.

According to The Warren Group, only 2,897 single-family and 1,500 condo sales closed statewide last month, 25.3 percent and 30.2 percent year-over-year declines, respectively. Within I-495, those tallies were 1,386 single-families and 1,116 condos, representing 25.6 percent and 28.6 percent drops from April 2022, respectively.

That may have magnified what both Banosian and McCarthy described as relatively slack activity at the higher end of the market in Greater Boston. With luxury buyers more attuned to economic news, more impacted by the sticker shock that might come from a jump in mortgage rates and, in some cases, far more reliant on the stock market to generate money they’d use in their home purchase, the effect of the early spring uncertainty likely curbed the numbers of high-end homes that sold, both argued in separate interviews with Banker & Tradesman Monday.

There was some economic instability. There’s inflation, there’s the Fed [raising interest rates], there’s volatility in the stock market, there’s the banks. People on the higher end of the market are always more impacted by this,” Banosian said.

Other Warning Signs Missing

Neither McCarthy nor Banosian said they were seeing the other signs that might otherwise herald a sustained fall in home values. Foot traffic at open houses was still quite strong, and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reported that the average single-family seller got 101.2 percent of their asking price, while the average condo seller took home 100.6 percent – each increases from the month before, when both indicators were below 100 percent – suggesting that buyers bid up the prices of many homes last month.

“Open houses were busy this weekend. I’ve been in the market long enough to be at open houses where nobody shows up because of the economy,” McCarthy said. “Days on market is up, but it’s still not in a number that should be of concern to any seller or buyer. Six months is the definition of a balanced market and we’ve got a long way to go to get there.”

With so few homes for sale – numbers of single-families and condos for sale in April were down 20 percent to 26 percent and numbers of new listings even more so – and buyer demand apparently still strong, normal market dynamics should keep prices rising or stable at their current, essentially record highs, McCarthy said.

Other indicators covering the Greater Boston housing market appear to support McCarthy’s and Banosian’s contention that April’s median sale price falls don’t reflect the market’s future.

Real estate data firm Black Knight reported that the dollar volume of mortgage rate-locks, the first step a serious buyer often takes when searching for a home, was down 10.7 percent in Greater Boston from March to April following a typical seasonal pattern where rate-lock demand is greatest when the spring homebuying season begins in March, potentially compounded by a moderate drop of mortgage rates in March that goosed demand for loans.

But that decline was lower than the 22.1 percent drop seen over the same period in 2022 and the 11.4 percent seen in 2021. And among the nation’s 20 biggest markets for mortgages, only Boston, Baltimore (a 12.8 percent month-over-month drop) and Washington, D.C. (an 18.4 percent drop) saw less than a 20 percent fall-of in rate-lock volume, with many metros seeing monthly declines of over 25 percent.

The Zillow Home Value Index found that values of homes in the bottom third of the Greater Boston market were up 5.66 in March and 4.21 percent in April on a year-over-year basis. The middle third of homes saw their value rise 0.26 percent in March and drop 0.46 percent in April year-over-year. And homes at the top third of the market saw their values rise 0.59 percent in March and fall 0.81 percent in April.

And the benchmark Case-Shiller S&P Core Logic Home Price Index showed that values in Greater Boston were up 4.2 percent year-over-year in January and 2.2 percent in February, the most recent data available. The index showed home prices were up slightly on a seasonally adjusted basis between December and January, and between January and February after falling a third of a percent between November and December.

Experts Say April Home Price Slips Aren’t Sign of Trouble

by James Sanna time to read: 4 min