In December, the total housing inventory dropped 11.1 percent. There were 1.85 million existing homes on the market, which is a 4.4 month supply at the current sales pace; in November, there was a 5.1 month supply. With the strengthening economy and sub-4 percent interest rates, the demand for homes from buyers should be increasing, but a tight supply of homes available for sale could cool that demand.

Supply shortage causes home prices to increase. And according to the National Association of Realtors' economists, home prices and rents are outpacing wages, making it difficult for buyers to save for a down payment. The national median existing-home price reached $208,500 in 2014, the highest it’s been since 2007, and a 5.8 percent increase from 2013. What's more, every region of the country saw home prices increase. In the Northeast, prices rose by 3.2 percent from a year earlier, while the Midwest reported a climb of 5.3 percent. Prices in the South increased 6.6 percent from December 2013, while in the West, prices were up 5.6 percent.

Home Sale Numbers
December closed out the year with 5.04 million sales, a 3.5 percent increase from December 2013. December was also the third month in a row where sales climbed above year-over-year levels. However, sales for all of 2014 were still 3.1 percent below 2013. Existing-home sales were up in the West in December; sales climbed 9.8 percent month-over-month and 2.8 percent year-over-year. The South also saw gains in their real estate market, with sales climbing 3.8 percent from November to December and 7.4 percent from a year earlier. Existing-home sales fell in the Northeast by 2.9 percent, but the news wasn't all bad as sales are still 3.1 percent higher than a year ago. In the Midwest, sales declined both month-over-month and year-over-year, falling 3.5 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.

First-time Buyers Decline
The number of first-time buyers making purchases last year fell to the lowest level in almost three decades, according to a NAR survey. For all of 2014, first-time buyers accounted for 29 percent of the market, tying their percentage for 2013. In December, first-time buyers represented 29 percent of all buyers, down from 31 percent in November but up from 27 percent in December 2013. Economists with NAR are optimistic that first-time buyers will be better represented in the market in the coming year. The Federal Housing Administration recently reduced annual mortgage insurance premiums, which will make buying a home more affordable for new homebuyers.