Kentucky rain turns more tornado survivors out of their homes

By Rod Nickel

MAYFIELD, Kentucky (Reuters) – Jimmy Galbreath counted his blessings too soon. His home in Mayfield, Kentucky, was battered but not broken last week by a tornado, and the 62-year-old former scrap iron worker planned to keep living there.

Then on Thursday rain soaked the state, with another downpour forecast for Friday into Saturday afternoon. As Galbreath watched, water leaked steadily into his kitchen, finding paths opened by two trees that had smashed into his house during the tornado.

“I can’t stay in here, it’s impossible,” said Galbreath, who collects social security. He said he was looking to buy a camper to live in.

“This is going to be a long haul, it’s not going to be no easy fix,” he said of his uninhabitable house.

Rebuilding hard-hit Kentucky cities like Mayfield and Dawson Springs will take years, with entire neighborhoods and numerous workplaces wiped out by the most severe U.S. tornadoes in a decade. At least 74 people in Kentucky and 14 elsewhere died in the storms.

GAPING HOLES

Many homes, businesses and churches in Mayfield, population 10,000, already have blue tarps nailed over their gaping holes, but on other structures, roofs and glass-less windows remain open to the sky.

As the rain began, water quickly pooled in streets as debris from the tornado’s destruction clogged storm drains.

Some residents opted to stay in their damaged homes after tornadoes struck last week instead of moving in with family, or into shelters, as others did.

Nearly all hotel rooms within an hour’s drive of Mayfield are full, forcing even some out of town emergency personnel to drive a long daily commute.

Mayfield expects a further half inch (12.7 mm) of rain on Friday, with potential for heavier amounts, and showers continuing on Saturday, according to The Weather Channel.

Once the rain passes, temperatures are forecast to dip below freezing on Sunday.

David Burke, chief program officer for non-governmental organization Team Rubicon, said the weather is likely to force more Kentucky residents out of their homes.

With rain on the way, he said, Team Rubicon volunteers have accelerated the pace of fixing tarps to homes across the state and helping residents move valuables to more secure areas.

“There are a lot of homes that are a total loss, but a lot of homes that can still be repaired if they can keep the water out,” Burke said.

Some shelter beds are available. Fourteen emergency shelters are open in Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas, enough for 550 people, said American Red Cross spokesperson Jenelle Eli.

One, recently opened in a Mayfield church, was empty when the rain started on Thursday but is expected to fill once the weather turns cold, a worker on duty said.

Mark Bruce, 64, who works for farm machinery dealer John Deere in Mayfield, salvaged sheet metal from tornado debris to patch holes in his roof. As rain fell, he looked up and said he hoped it would be enough.

“We think we’re in the dry. We feel very fortunate.”

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

PM apologizes as Greece counts costs of wildfire catastrophe

By Lefteris Papadimas

PEFKI, Greece (Reuters) -Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized on Monday for failures in tackling the devastating wildfires that have burned across Greece for the past week as the country counted the cost in lost homes and livelihoods.

As fires burned unabated in many parts of the country for a seventh day, the biggest front was on Evia, Greece’s second-biggest island located just off the mainland east of Athens.

“It burned everything, there’s nothing left,” said 77-year-old Makis Ladogiannakis, sitting in a cafe in the seaside town of Pefki, where a ferry waited to evacuate more locals and tourists to safety if needed, as in previous days.

“The fire was the biggest catastrophe for the village,” he said. “People lived off resin production and the olive trees.”

More than 500 fires have been burning across Greece, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people and there has been growing public anger at delays and breakdowns in the government’s response.

Mitsotakis went on television late on Monday to make a public apology and promised that mistakes would be identified and rectified but called for unity.

“I fully understand the pain of our fellow citizens who saw their homes or property burned,” he said. “Any failures will be identified. And responsibility will be assigned wherever necessary.”

Mitsotakis promised that forests destroyed by the fires would be restored and climate defenses be built up, and he pledged compensation for those whose property was destroyed in the fires.

He approved a 500 million-euro package of aid for Evia and the Attica region around Athens. Ministers were due to meet on Tuesday to discuss further support measures.

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Strong winds on Monday fueled flare-ups on Evia after appearing to ease earlier in the day. Water-bombing aircraft struggled to operate because of the large plumes of smoke blanketing the area, authorities said.

The fires broke out last week during Greece’s worst heatwave in three decades, with searing temperatures and dry heat causing tinder box conditions.

“The climate crisis is knocking on the door of the entire planet,” Mitsotakis said, just hours after a U.N. report said global warming was dangerously close to being out of control.

Temperatures had cooled somewhat in Greece, but were forecast to rise again during the week, meaning the risk of flare-ups remained high.

“It’s sad. All my childhood memories are burned right now,” said Richard Konstantine Allen, who lives in Athens but went back to try to save his property. “I used to run in this forest, to cycle to collect fruit, now everything is gone.”

In Athens, officials began to assess the damage from a blaze which tore through several suburbs north of the city last week before beginning to recede on Saturday.

“Our aim is to complete the inventory as soon as possible, in order to immediately begin the process of compensating our affected fellow citizens,” the ministry of infrastructure and transport said in a statement.

The blaze, which broke out on the foothills of Mount Parthina on the outskirts of the capital, sent thousands of people fleeing and damaged homes and businesses as well as thousands of hectares of forest land.

Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help with the wildfires. In addition, Greece said on Monday it was expecting two aircraft from Turkey and an additional plane from Russia.

More than 2,000 residents and tourists have been evacuated by ferry since last Tuesday – the images of them departing against the backdrop of a dark red sky becoming emblematic of the blazes.

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Alison Williams)

Tourists, residents evacuated by boat in Greece as wildfires rage

By Angeliki Koutantou and Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) -Scores of people on the Greek island of Evia fled to the shore to be evacuated by boat on Wednesday as a rapidly spreading wildfire tore through surrounding pine forests, leaving gutted buildings in its wake.

The fire, worsened by changing winds, has forced authorities on the island near Athens to evacuate several villages since late Tuesday.

Coast guard vessels picked up at least 50 people who had been evacuated from a beach close to the seaside village of Rovies on Wednesday and transferred them to a ferry, an official said.

“It was burning all night. The forest has been destroyed, villages were burned. We left behind our homes, we left our pets,” Christina Katsini, a Rovies resident, told Skai TV.

Tassos Baltas, a volunteer rescuer, said it was “raining ashes in Halkida”, Evia’s capital, some 100 km (62 miles) away.

Fires that had threatened houses on the northern outskirts of Athens on Tuesday eased slightly. But with Greece facing its most severe heatwave in 30 years, the risk remained high for the next few days in most parts of the country, authorities said.

Temperatures hovered above 40 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) for the third day.

“The weather conditions are extreme,” Deputy Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said in a televised address. “We should remain on alert. We should avoid any – but any – activity that could cause a fire.”

Reinforcements arrived from Cyprus, and firefighters from France and two aircraft from Sweden were expected by Thursday, a Civil Protection Authority spokesperson said.

Fires were also burning in Halkidiki in northern Greece, the Peloponnese, in the regions of Messinia and Mani, and in Ilia, close to Ancient Olympia, which was the site of the first Olympic Games and was ordered to be evacuated.

Europe has been experiencing extreme weather this summer, from heavy flooding in the north to severe heatwaves and fires in parts of the Mediterranean, with Turkey hit by its most intense blazes on record.

Athens residents were told to stay indoors as a thick cloud of smoke hung over the city.

Fires near the town of Varympompi, north of the capital, damaged scores of buildings and destroyed more than 80 cars after breaking out on Tuesday.

“I saved my pets, that’s why I stayed,” said one Varympompi resident, Panagiotis, standing among burned cars and blackened pine trees. “I have goosebumps just talking about it; all the homes around me burned, nothing’s left.”

(Additional reporting by Giorgos Moutafis and Lefteris Papadimas, Writing by Karolina Tagaris)

More U.S. children die in mass shootings at home than at school: study

By Brad Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Three out of four U.S. children and teens killed in mass shootings over the past decade were victims of domestic violence and generally died in their homes, according to a study released on Thursday by the gun control group Everytown.

While the specter of school shootings looms darkly in the minds of American parents who remember massacres in Newtown, Connecticut; Parkland, Florida, and around the country, the group’s review of shootings from 2009 through 2018 found far more children are killed in their own homes.

“These are not random acts of violence, yet people have the perception that the killings come out of nowhere,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, Everytown’s research director. “That is simply not the truth.”

The Everytown report, based on police and court records, as well as media reports, found that 54% of mass shootings involved the shooter killing a family member or intimate partner.

A total of 1,121 people were killed in 194 mass shootings in the decade examined – one-third of whom were children or teens.

Nearly two-thirds of all mass shootings took place entirely inside homes, the study found.

Burd-Sharps said Everytown hopes that its report helps the public gain more understanding about the statistical realities of mass shootings, which it defines as an incident that kills at least four people, excluding the shooter.

The federal government and other groups set a lower threshold for what constitutes a mass shooting. Those definitions can result in higher totals than Everytown’s count.

Only 1% of the nearly 35,000 gun deaths averaged in the United States each year in the past decade involved mass shootings, but Burd-Sharps said she believes public interest in them can help propel gun-safety legislation that could cut gun deaths across the board.

At the top of Everytown’s wish list is a “red flag” law that would allow family members or law enforcement officers to petition a judge to seize firearms from a person they think is a threat to themselves or others.

The group also believes a comprehensive federal law requiring background checks on all gun sales would quickly be effective in decreasing gun deaths.

The link between domestic violence in mass shootings was seen this week in San Diego, when a man who had a restraining order against him killed his wife and three of their four young sons before taking his own life.

“When you look at all these cases of kids who lost their lives, if some family member had been able to heed the warning signs and temporarily had guns removed from the home, many of those children would still be alive,” Burd-Sharps said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

California’s PG&E customers face new round of mass outages

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Power supply to about 150,000 California homes and businesses is expected to be shut off on Wednesday, in the latest precautionary outage planned by utility giant PG&E against wildfire risks posed by extremely dry, windy weather.

Late on Tuesday, the company said it would go forward with the shutoffs from 9 a.m., with some customers likely to be unaffected until late afternoon.

The mass blackout will be the fourth imposed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co, a unit of PG&E Corp, since Oct. 9, when about 730,000 customers were left in the dark as a preventive measure called a “public safety power shutoff.”

A precautionary outage initiated on Oct. 23 hit an estimated 179,000 customers, while another run in phases from Oct. 26 through Nov. 1 affected a record 941,000 homes and workplaces, according to PG&E.

The latest mass shutoff is likely to run through midday Thursday and could ultimately affect 181,000 customers across portions of 16 counties in northern and central California, PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen told Reuters.

The outages are a response to forecasts for humidity levels to drop and heavy desert winds to howl through the region, a scenario that strengthens the risk of wildfires ignited by downed power lines.

Wind gusts will reach between 35 mph and 55 miles (56 km to 89 km), with isolated areas of higher gusts, National Weather Service forecasters said.

PG&E, California’s largest investor-owned utility, filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in civil liability from major fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

That tally includes the state’s deadliest fire on record, the Camp fire that killed 85 people in and around the northern town of Paradise last year.

The recent wave of precautionary shutoffs has provoked criticism from Governor Gavin Newsom, state regulators and consumer activists as being too broad.

Newsom blames PG&E for doing too little to properly maintain and secure its power lines against wind damage and has accused the utility of poorly managing some of the mass outages.

Utility executives have acknowledged room for improvement while defending the sprawling cutoffs as a matter of public safety.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently opened a formal investigation of whether PG&E and other utilities violated energy regulations by cutting power to millions of residents for days at a time during periods of high winds.

Even as northern California braced for heightened wildfire risks, parts of Southern California, including Los Angeles, were expected to be doused by their first substantial showers after months of little or no rainfall.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. mortgage requests rise as loan rates hold near 10-month low: MBA

A view of single family homes for sale in San Marcos, California October 25, 2013. PROPERTY REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – U.S. mortgage applications increased for the first time in five weeks as most home borrowing costs hovered near their lowest in 10 months, the Mortgage Bankers Association said on Wednesday.

The Washington-based industry group said its seasonally adjusted gauge of loan requests to buy a home and to refinance one rose 3.6 percent to 365.3 in the week ended Feb. 15. The prior week’s reading was the lowest in a month.

“Mortgage rates held steady on mixed economic news, as core inflation remained firm, while retail sales in December were much weaker than expected. However, overall application activity picked up over the week,” Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of industry surveys and forecasts, said in a statement.

Interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of $484,350 or less ticked up to 4.66 percent from the prior week’s 4.65 percent, which was the lowest since March 2, 2018.

U.S. Treasury yields, which are benchmarks for most mortgages, rose last week as underlying inflation trends remained intact and traders reduced their safe-haven bond holdings on optimism that China and the United States would resolve their trade conflict.

The other mortgage rates that MBA tracks were unchanged to 8 basis points higher on the week.

“Most rates remained close to 10-month lows, which allowed some borrowers with an incentive to refinance to capitalize,” Kan said.

The group’s seasonally adjusted barometer on home refinancing requests rose 6.4 percent to 1,084.4.

The refinance share of total mortgage applications was 41.7 percent last week, compared with 41.8 percent the prior week.

MBA’s seasonally adjusted gauge on applications to buy a home, which is seen as a proxy on future housing activity, climbed 1.7 percent at 232.7 last week.

(Reporting by Richard Leong in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Man arrested for starting Colorado wildfire burning over 38,000 acres

Flames rise past a ridge during efforts to contain the Spring Creek Fire in Costilla County, Colorado, U.S. June 27, 2018. Costilla County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

TAOS, New Mexico (Reuters) – A man was arrested on Saturday on charges of starting a forest fire in Colorado that has destroyed structures and forced hundreds to evacuate their homes in one of dozens of wildfires raging across the drought-hit U.S. southwest.

Jesper Joergensen, 52, was taken into custody for suspected arson that started the Springs Fire, the most active of around 10 blazes in Colorado, the state hardest hit by fires, according to Costilla County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

Joergensen is not a U.S. citizen and will be handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement once he has faced arson charges, said a Costilla County detention officer. The officer could not immediately say what nationality Joergensen held.

The fire has scorched over 38,000 acres (15,378 hectares) between the towns of Fort Garland and La Veta in southern Colorado, forcing more mandatory evacuations of homes and ranches on Saturday in a mountainous area of public and private land. The fire continued to grow, fueled by temperatures in the mid 80s Fahrenheit (27 Celsius) and had zero percent containment as of Saturday afternoon.

Air tankers and helicopters dropped fire retardant and water on the blaze. Authorities asked evacuated residents not to fly drones to check on their properties as the devices posed a danger to aircraft and would force them to be grounded.

An unknown number of structures were consumed by the fire, said Bethany Urban, a public information officer. No injuries have been reported.

Gusty winds, single-digit humidity and hot temperatures have fueled the fires and could ignite new blazes in the U.S. West, the National Weather Service said in several warnings.

The largest wildfire in Colorado, the 416 Fire, has charred almost 47,000 acres about 13 miles (21 km) north of Durango in the southwest corner of the state, and is 37 percent contained, said public information officer Brandalyn Vonk.

About 10 smaller wildfires were burning in New Mexico and three in Arizona, with much of the two states suffering extreme or exceptional drought conditions.

All but the northeastern corner of Colorado is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Grant McCool)

U.S. housing starts approach 11-year high, permits weak

FILE PHOTO: A "For Sale" sign is seen outside a home in Cardiff, California, U.S. on February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. home building surged to near an 11-year high in May amid an acceleration in both single-family and multi-family housing construction, but a second straight monthly drop in permits suggested housing market activity would remain moderate.

Higher lumber prices as well as labor and land shortages have left builders unable to meet strong housing demand, which has depleted the number of properties available for sale. Housing demand is being fueled by the lowest unemployment rate in 18 years.

“There is some early evidence that lumber prices may now have peaked, but the shortage of labor will not be solved so quickly, and that means housing market conditions will remain tight for the remainder of the year,” said Matthew Pointon, property economist at Capital Economics in New York.

The Trump administration in April 2017 imposed anti-subsidy duties on imports of Canadian softwood lumber.

Housing starts vaulted 5.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.350 million units last month, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday. That was the highest level since July 2007. Starts in the Midwest jumped 62.2 percent to their highest level since September 2006, offsetting declines in the Northeast, South and Midwest regions.

Building permits fell 4.6 percent to a rate of 1.301 million units, the lowest level since September 2017.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts rising to a pace of 1.310 million units last month and permits declining to a rate of 1.350 million units.

Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, increased 3.9 percent to a rate of 936,000 units last month. It has lost momentum since hitting a pace of 948,000 units last November, which was the strongest level in more than 10 years.

Permits to build single-family homes fell 2.2 percent in May to a pace of 844,000 units, an eight-month low. With permits lagging starts, single-family homebuilding could slow in the months ahead.

U.S. stocks fell sharply as President Donald Trump’s latest threat to impose duties on more Chinese goods fanned fears that tit-for-tat tariffs could spiral into a trade war.

The PHLX housing index  declined in tandem with the weaker stock market. Prices for U.S. Treasuries rose and the dollar  strengthened against a basket of currencies.

HOUSING SHORTAGE

A survey on Monday showed confidence among single-family homebuilders dipped in June, with builders “increasingly concerned that tariffs placed on Canadian lumber and other imported products are hurting housing affordability.” According to the survey, more expensive lumber had “added nearly $9,000 to the price of a new single-family home since January 2017.”

Residential investment contracted in the first quarter. The housing market continues to lag overall economic growth, which appears to be accelerating in the second quarter after hitting a speed bump at the start of the year.

Growth estimates for the second quarter are as high as a 4.7 percent annualized rate. The economy grew at a 2.2 percent pace in the January-March period.

In May, starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment rebounded 7.5 percent to a rate of 414,000 units. Permits for the construction of multi-family homes fell 8.8 percent to a pace of 457,000 units.

The housing shortage could ease slightly, with more houses under construction and being completed. Housing completions increased 1.9 percent to a rate of 1.291 million units, the highest level since January 2008. The number of single-family houses completed last month was the most since March 2008.

Realtors estimate that housing start and completion rates need to be in a range of 1.5 million to 1.6 million units per month to plug the inventory gap.

The stock of housing under construction edged up 0.2 percent to 1.127 million units, the highest level since July 2007. Single-family homes under construction last month increased 0.2 percent to 515,000 units, the highest level since May 2008.

“While the rise is good news, it’s still not enough for a hot real estate market that is starving for inventory during the peak summer sales season,” said Sam Khater, chief economist at mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Hundreds flee Australian bushfires that kill cattle, destroy homes

Smoke rises from a destroyed home after a bushfire swept through the town of Tathra, located on the south-east coast of New South Wales in Australia, March 19, 2018. AAP/Dean Lewins/via REUTERS

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities urged people to remain alert on Monday as bushfires that have destroyed dozens of homes, killed cattle and forced hundreds of residents to flee continued to burn out of control in the southeast of the country.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported on Monday but the bushfires have caused extensive damage in rural areas of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s two most populous states. More than 100 houses were damaged or destroyed, authorities said.

“At this stage (there have been) no lives lost,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a news conference in the small NSW coastal town of Tathra.

“It is just a great credit to the firefighters, to the volunteers, the emergency workers – all of the community has pulled together and provided such great support,” he said.

The fires, believed to have been sparked by lightning on Saturday, were fanned by dry, hot winds as temperatures reached 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

Emergency officials said conditions should ease later on Monday but “watch and act” warnings remained in place for five locations.

A house thats has been destroyed by a bushfire can be seen near the town of Cobden, located south west of Melbourne in Australia, March 18, 2018. AAP/David Crosling/via REUTERS

A house thats has been destroyed by a bushfire can be seen near the town of Cobden, located south west of Melbourne in Australia, March 18, 2018. AAP/David Crosling/via REUTERS

The fire also set off an argument among Australia’s politicians on whether climate change was a contributing factor to the blazes.

“You can’t attribute any particular event, whether it’s a flood or fire or a drought …to climate change. We are the land of droughts and flooding rains, we’re the land of bushfires,” Turnbull said.

Authorities said some 69 houses were destroyed and a further 39 were damaged and 30 caravans or cabins were also wiped out in Tathra, where residents fled to the beach on Sunday to avoid the flames as flying embers quickly carried the firefront forward.

About 700 residents were evacuated to centers set up at the nearby town of Bega and several schools in affected areas were closed on Monday.

NSW Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers earlier told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that five of 22 fires had not yet been contained.

“There’s still a lot of fire around the landscape,” he said, warning that it would still be several days before they were extinguished.

About 280 firefighters were battling the blazes, while 22,000 homes were without power in the region after high winds brought down trees, Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said late on Sunday.

Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers, fueled by highly flammable eucalyptus trees.

In January, hundreds of holidaymakers had to be evacuated by boat from the beaches of the Royal National Park south of Sydney when they became trapped by bushfires.

The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria killed 173 people and injured more than 400.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell and Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE; Editing by Susan Fenton and Paul Tait)

U.S. home sales hit 11-year high in November, supply still tight

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012.

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. home sales increased more than expected in November, hitting their highest level in nearly 11 years, the latest indication that housing was regaining momentum after almost stalling this year.

The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday that existing home sales surged 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.81 million units last month amid continued recovery in areas in the South ravaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. That was the highest level since December 2006 and followed an upwardly revised 5.50 million-unit pace in October.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast home sales rising 0.9 percent to a 5.52 million-unit rate in November from a previously reported 5.48 million-unit pace in October.

Existing home sales make up about 90 percent of U.S. home sales. They rose 3.8 percent on a year-on-year basis in November.

The NAR said sales in the South, which accounts for almost half of the existing homes sales market, increased 8.3 percent last month. Sales rose 6.7 percent in the Northeast and jumped 8.4 percent in the Midwest. They, however, fell 2.3 percent in the West, which has seen a strong increase in house prices.

Despite the recent gains, existing home sales remain constrained by a chronic shortage of houses at the lower end of the market, which is keeping prices elevated and sidelining some first-time buyers, who accounted for 29 percent of transactions last month.

Economists and realtors say a 40 percent share of first-time buyers is needed for a robust housing market.

The number of previously owned homes on the market dropped 7.2 percent to 1.67 million units in November. That was the second lowest reading since 1999. Housing inventory has dropped for 30 straight months on a year-on-year basis.

At November’s sales pace, it would take a record low 3.4 months to exhaust the current inventory, down from 3.9 months in October. A six-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

With supply still tight, the median house price increased 5.8 percent from a year ago to $248,000 in November. That was the 69th consecutive month of year-on-year price gains. In contrast, annual wage growth has struggled to break above 2.9 percent since the 2007/09 recession ended.

The report came on the heels of data this week showing homebuilder confidence vaulting to a near 18-1/2-year high in December and single-family homebuilding and permits rising in November to levels last seen in the third quarter of 2007.

TAX REVAMP WILL HURT HOUSE PRICES

The NAR said it anticipated a slightly negative impact on the housing market from the Republican overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

The biggest overhaul of the tax system in more than 30 years, which could be signed into law by President Donald Trump soon, will cap the deduction for mortgage interest at $750,000 in home loan value for residences bought from Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 31, 2025.

After Dec. 31, 2025, the cap would revert to $1 million in loan value. It suspends the deduction for interest on home equity loans from Jan. 1, 2018 until 2026. The NAR said about 94 percent of homeowners would fall under the $750,000 cap.

Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi has warned that the tax revamp would weigh on house prices, with the Northeast corridor, South Florida, big Midwestern cities, and the West Coast suffering the biggest price declines.

“The hit to national house prices is estimated to be near 4 percent at the peak of their impact in summer 2019,” said Zandi. “That is, national house prices will be approximately 4 percent lower than they would have been if there was no tax legislation.”

The PHLX housing index was trading higher in line with a broadly firmer stock market. The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. Prices for U.S. Treasuries fell.

The government reported on Tuesday that single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, jumped 5.3 percent in November to the highest level since September 2007.

Permits for the future construction of these housing units rose 1.4 percent to a level not seen since August 2007. Housing completions continued to lag at a rate of 1.116 million units.

Realtors estimate that the housing starts and completions rates need to be in a range of 1.5 million to 1.6 million units per month to plug the inventory gap.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)