The traditional "spring buying season" for homes may be a bust this year for traditional realtors, Redfin (RDFN -4.73%)Zillow Group (Z -3.34%) (ZG -3.14%), and others, according to March data released Wednesday morning by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Pending home sales -- defined as signed contracts to buy existing homes -- fell 20.8% in March, or 16.3% year-over-year, despite a minimal impact from COVID-19 in the first half of the month. 

The NAR, the largest realtors' trade association, said that while its surveys indicate interest in buying remains high, many sellers pulled their homes from the market amid concerns about COVID-19. The NAR expressed optimism that it would see higher-than-expected activity in the fall. 

A home with a "For Sale" sign in the front yard.

Image source: Getty Images.

Across the board

The national index for pending home sales in March dropped to 88.2. A score of 100 indicates activity equal to 2001. February's score was 111.5. 

Regional data showed that no part of the country was spared from the downturn:

Region Index % Change from February 2020 % Change from March 2019
Northeast 82.3 (14.5%) (11%)
South 103.7 (19.5%) (17.8%)
Midwest 85.6 (22%) (12.4%)
West 71.4 (26.8%) (21.5%)

Data source: National Association of Realtors. Chart by author.

Declines were steepest in the West region, which includes the major Seattle and San Francisco real estate markets, both of which were impacted by coronavirus earlier than most other areas of the country. 

What's next

The NAR believes that demand is still high, pointing to increases in mortgage applications, historically low mortgage rates, and an ongoing shortage of available homes for sale. "Although the pandemic continues to be a major disruption in regards to the timing of home sales, home prices have been holding up well," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun in a press release. "I project the national median home price to increase 1.3% for the year."