Sales of new U.S. homes hovered in August near two-year high

Record Low

A lack of supply may also be playing a role in limiting sales. The number of completed houses on the market dropped to a record-low 38,000 last month, today’s report showed.

Sales of new homes, tabulated when contracts are signed, are considered a timelier barometer than purchases of previously owned dwellings, which are calculated when a contract closes. Newly constructed houses accounted for 6.7 percent of the residential market in 2011, down from a high of 15 percent during the boom of the past decade.

Existing home sales rose more than forecast to a 4.82 million annual rate in August, a two-year high, from a 4.47 million pace the prior month, the National Association of Realtors reported last week.

The NAR figures also showed distressed sales, comprised of foreclosures and short sales, in which the lender agrees to a transaction for less than the balance of the mortgage, accounted for 22 percent of the total, the lowest since at least October 2008 when record keeping began.

Builder Outlook

Improving demand is bolstering homebuilders such as Miami- based Lennar Corp. and allowing for longer-term construction strategies.

“Simply put, the housing market is recovering, not only are our sales margins and backlogs improving, but the beginnings of a sense of visibility are coming back to underwriting land acquisition and planning for the future,” Chief Executive Officer Stuart Miller said on a Sept. 24 earnings call.

“The home building business is beginning to revert to normal and that’s positive for the U.S. economy in general, which is in turn good for a sustained recovery in the housing market,” Miller said.

Toll Brothers Inc., the largest U.S. luxury-home builder, reported a better-than-estimated profit and an increase in revenue for its third quarter ended July 31. The average price of the homes that the Horsham, Pennsylvania-based company delivered in the quarter climbed to $576,000 from $557,000 in the previous three months.

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