Home seller profits up nationwide as market averts COVID damage

by Liz Hughes

ATTOM Data Solutions’ first-quarter 2021 U.S. Home Sales Report found home seller profits nationwide were up on an annual basis, another sign the housing market remains strong despite the economic damage caused by the COVID pandemic. 

A typical first-quarter home sale in the U.S. generated a $70,050 profit, down from $75,750 in the fourth quarter of 2020, but up 26% from $55,750 in the first quarter of 2020, according to the report. That $70,050 profit represented a 34.2% return on investment on the original sales price, down from 37.1% from the fourth quarter of 2020 but higher than last year’s 30.8% level. 

The report noted small dips in profit are common in the first quarter, and profits and the sales ROI are signs the nine-year housing boom continues as the economy recovers from the past year. 

“The latest data on home prices and seller profits across the U.S. provide the latest markers of how the U.S. housing market keeps roaring ahead even as major parts of the broader economy try to overcome the impact of the pandemic,” ATTOM Data Solutions Chief Product Officer Todd Teta said in a press release. “However, the market did take a break from rising prices in the first quarter of 2021, and while that’s not unusual for the beginning of the year, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on as we move into the spring buying season. The next few months will speak huge volumes about whether the market keeps barreling ahead. For now, though, sellers remain in the driver’s seat, ringing up great profits.”

In metro areas around the nation, typical profit margins rose from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 in 88% of the 149 areas analyzed. 

Profit margins on typical home sales were highest in western markets, according to the report. Additionally, home values rose in almost every major metro area, with median home prices in the first quarter exceeding those from a year ago in 97% of areas analyzed. 

In 40% of metro areas analyzed, home prices in the first quarter hit or tied new peaks according to the report, including Houston. 

The number of years a property was owned by homeowners selling in the first quarter declined slightly nationwide to 7.94 years from 8.17 years in the fourth quarter of 2020 but was up from 7.7 years a year earlier. 

Nationally, the report found cash sales were up in the first quarter, accounting for 26.5% of single-family home and condominium sales, the highest since the first quarter of 2019. All-cash sales represented 22.9% of transactions in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 26% in the first quarter of 2020. 

Distressed home sales continued to drop and were at a nearly 18-year low, accounting for just 5.8% of sales, compared to 6.6% in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 9.4% in first quarter 2020. 

The report also found that nationwide, institutional investors accounted for only 2.1% of all sales in the first quarter, the second-lowest level since 2000 and down from 2.8% in the preceding quarter and 2.6% in the year-ago period. 

The report also found Federal Housing Administration purchases hit a nearly 13-year low, accounting for only 10% of all single-family home and condominium purchases, the second-lowest level since 2008 and down from 11.1% in the previous quarter and from 12.3% last year. 

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