A houseÕs real estate for sale sign shows the home as being Òunder contractÓ in Washington, DC, November 19, 2020.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Pandemic-driven demand sent total 2020 home sales to the highest level since 2006.

Still, even the most avid buyers are bumping up against barriers in today’s housing market. Record low supply and record high prices are limiting the exceptionally high demand.

Closed sales of existing homes in December increased just 0.7% from November to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 6.76 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales were 22% stronger than in December 2019.

As unexpected as a global pandemic was, so too was the reaction of homebuyers. After plummeting in March and April, sales suddenly began to climb. Total year-end sales volume ended at 5.64 million units, the highest level since 2006 and far stronger than predicted before the pandemic. Buyers were driven by a desire for larger, suburban homes with dedicated spaces for working and schooling.

“Home sales could possibly reach 8 million if we had more inventory,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. “Mortgage rates should remain very low throughout 2021, although we may have seen the lowest already.”

Strong demand exacerbated what was already low inventory of homes for sale at the start of the year. At the end of December, inventory stood at just 1.07 million homes for sale, down 23% year over year. At the current sales place, that represents a 1.9-month supply. That is the lowest number of homes since the Realtors began tracking this metric in 1982.

Low supply and strong demand continued to raise the heat under home prices. The median price of an existing home sold in December was $309,800, a 12.9% increase compared with December 2019 and the highest December median price on record.

Part of the sharp increase in the median price is that home sales are stronger on the higher end of the market, where there is more supply. Sales of homes priced below $100,000 were down 15% annually in December, while sales of homes priced between $500,000 and $750,000 were up 65% annually. Sales of million-dollar-plus homes were up 94% from one year ago.

Steep competition for homes also has more buyers making all-cash offers.

First-time buyers made up 31% of sales. They usually make up about 40% historically.

It also took just 21 days on average to sell a home in December.

“It is unusual, because every year during the holiday season we would see days on market increase, but not this year,” said Yun.