(David McNew/Getty Images)
(USA TODAY) -- The supply of homes for sale is still unusually tight as the spring buying season opens, helping sellers by turning up the heat on already-rising prices.
The number of homes listed for sale on real estate website Zillow was
down almost 17% in late February vs. a year earlier. In some California
markets, they were down more than 40%, Zillow data show.
supply crunch is likely to last all year, says IHS Global Insight
economist Patrick Newport. "We're still not building enough homes."
the U.S. is creating about 1.1 million new households a year, housing
starts in January came in at an 890,000 annual rate, the government
But as prices rise, more owners will be motivated to sell, easing supply shortages, economists say.
prices were up 7.3% in the fourth quarter from a year before, Standard
& Poor's Case-Shiller data show. That was a much faster rise than
most economists expected for 2012.
Nationwide, the supply of homes
for sale - based on the pace of sales - fell in January to 4.2 months,
the National Association of Realtors says. That's an almost eight-year
low. A six-month to seven-month supply is considered balanced between
buyers and sellers.
The availability of the most expensive homes in the markets Zillow tracks has tightened more than those at lower price levels.
for sale in what Zillow defines as the top price tier in each market
fell by almost 21% in February compared to a year ago. By comparison,
the inventory of homes in the middle tier dropped 17% and those in the
bottom tier fell 9%.
The price tiers vary by market, based on local prices.
California cities in Zillow's survey are among those seeing the biggest
inventory drops, ranging from a 48% decline in Sacramento to a 36%
falloff in Riverside. But other cities are also seeing significantly
fewer listings. New York is down almost 19%, Dallas-Fort Worth, nearly
21%, and Orlando is off 27%.
Only five of 99 metros showed an
increase in listings, led by El Paso, up 19%, and Albuquerque, up 8%.
Little Rock, Fort Myers, Fla., and Youngstown, Ohio, also saw increases.
(Julie Schmit, USA TODAY)