There are any number of bleak data points in the home sales numbers out today from the National Association of Realtors. Home prices are still falling, inventory is still high and sales are still low.
But for purposes of this post, I'm going to focus on a single number: 31 percent.
Distressed homes accounted for 31 percent of all existing home sales in May, according to the NAR. That's a big deal, because distressed homes (foreclosures and short sales) tend to sell at a big discount to comparable homes. So all those distressed sales are one of the key reasons home prices keep falling.
All the bargains in distressed homes also mean that buyers are more likely to buy existing homes than newly built homes. No surprise, then, that the rate of new-home construction is near all-time lows, and jobs haven't started to come back in the construction business.
We're five years into the housing bust, but the passage of time is not improve the picture in the housing market: The percentage of distressed sales in May 2011 was exactly the same as it was in May 2010.