The numbers: Sales of previously-owned homes jumped 6.5% in February, though the coronavirus outbreak could put the break on sales growth in coming months.
Existing-home sales occurred at a seasonally-adjusted annual pace of 5.77 million, the National Association of Realtors reported Friday. It was the strongest sales figure for the month of February since 2007.
The pace of all home sales — including existing and new homes — was 7.2% higher than a year earlier.
The inventory of homes for sale remained tight, which likely limited sales somewhat. There was a 3.1-month supply, the same as in January and just above the all-time low since the National Association of Realtors began tracking this data in 1999. A 6-month supply is generally considered to be indicative of a balanced market.
What happened: The median sales price for existing homes in November was $270,100, which was 8% higher than a year ago. Home prices have now increased on an annual basis for 96 consecutive months, the National Association of Realtors reported.
February sales rose, relative to the month prior, in the Midwest, the South and the West. Of these, the West had the biggest jump in sales with an 18.9% increase.
On a monthly basis, sales fell 4.1% in the Northeast, but the volume of sales was still higher in this region than it was a year ago.
The big picture: The question facing the real-estate market right now is how much of an effect the coronavirus pandemic will have. In a survey the National Association of Realtors released Thursday, 48% of Realtors said that interest among home buyers had fallen because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The outbreak has already begun to disrupt the home-buying process. Multiple major real-estate brokerages, including Redfin RDFN, +2.08% and Re/Max RMAX, -6.16% , have moved away from holding open houses for fear of promoting the spread of the illness and shifted toward virtual home tours.
A Zillow ZG, +14.72% analysis of past research on the economic effects of previous pandemics suggests that while pandemics may not cause home prices to fall, they can create a major slowdown in sales activity. The downturn in the stock market may also constrain buyers if the money they planned to use for a down payment was invested and has decreased in value in recent weeks.
One major tailwind for the housing market right now though is that mortgage rates remain historically low and may decrease to new record lows in the weeks to come, which could help more people afford to buy.
What they’re saying: “These figures show that housing was on a positive trajectory, but the coronavirus has undoubtedly slowed buyer traffic and it is difficult to predict what short-term effects the pandemic will have on future sales,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said.