From the WSJ:
The housing market, which has struggled with an oversupply of homes for years, is facing a new problem: a lack of attractive inventory.
There were more than 2.19 million homes listed for sale at the end of September, down 20% from a year earlier, according to a new report from the real-estate website Realtor.com. That is the lowest level since the company began its count in 2007.
The report is the latest sign of how the U.S. housing market can’t seem to catch a break. While falling inventories are typically a sign of health, because reduced competition can boost prices, that isn’t the case right now.
Instead, real-estate agents say, people are pulling their homes off the market rather than try to sell them at today’s discounted prices. At the same time, banks have been more slowly moving to take back properties through foreclosure ever since processing irregularities surfaced last fall, temporarily reducing the supply of foreclosed properties. The shrinking supply isn’t driving up prices because demand is soft.
The decline in inventory also suggests that there are fewer opportunities for buyers and sellers to strike deals. That can further chill sales, as buyers become afraid to overpay while sellers are similarly cautious about underpricing their homes.
“The inventory is low, so it’s hard for buyers to find their dream home,” said Joan Downing, a real-estate agent in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. “That’s been our challenge more than anything: finding the inventory for the clients. Nobody’s complaining about the pricing or the interest rates.”
“As weak as demand is, inventory has been weaker,” said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin Corp., a Seattle real-estate brokerage firm that does business in 13 states. “Right now, the absence of inventory is the limiting factor on sales volume.”