New-home sales improved modestly in June

This Thursday, June 8, 2017, photo shows a new home under construction, in Miami Springs, Fla. On Wednesday, July 26, 2017, the Commerce Department reports on sales of new homes in June. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

WASHINGTON — U.S. sales of new homes perked up slightly in June, a sign that more would-be buyers are seeking newly built properties.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new-home sales edged up 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000. Sales have registered a healthy 10.9 percent increase so far this year.

The gains come amid a broader shortage of homes listed for sale, likely pushing more buyers into new construction. Despite steady growth since the housing bubble began to burst a decade ago, sales of new homes remain below historic averages. Builders are contending with a lack of land for construction, a shortage of workers and rising costs for some materials.

"When taking into account the size of the U.S., new home sales are still about 30 percent below the 50-year average," said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at the real estate firm Trulia. "But the signs for home builders are clear: if you build, they will come."

Sales last month advanced in the Midwest and West, but purchases were unchanged in the Northeast and dropped in the South.

The June sales report indicates that the price and supply pressures will continue.

The median sales price of a new home fell 3.3 percent to $310,800. But the median obscures the overall trend of new construction toward more expensive homes. Just 13 percent of new homes sold last month cost less than $200,000, compared to the 17 percent for all of 2016 and 19 percent for 2015.

There have been sales gains in the price range of $200,000 and $299,000 that overlaps with the median price for existing homes. But new homes that cost more than $500,000 are also a growing share of sales.

There were 272,000 new homes on the market in June, the most since June 2009.

But that accounts for only 5.4 months' supply based on the current sales rate. The gain in new-home inventory has been insufficient to offset the declines in sales listings of existing homes.

The National Association of Realtors said this week that there were 1.96 million existing homes for sale in June, a 7.1 decline from a year ago.

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