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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After being one of the weaker sectors of the U.S. economy in the first half of 2019, the housing sector rebounded, spurred by a trio of U.S. interest rate cuts from the Fed that lowered the cost of mortgages.

Yes, but: There are clouds on the horizon for 2020, as declining home affordability continues to be a concern, especially for first-time home buyers.

  • The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $274,500, up almost 8% from December 2018, as prices rose in every region, NAR reported.
  • November’s price increase marked 94 straight months of year-over-year gains.

Flashback: U.S. existing-home sales rose 3.6% from November to an annual rate of 5.54 million in December and jumped nearly 11% from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.

  • After a sluggish start to the year, following the government shutdown and rising mortgage rates, total home sales ended the year at 5.34 million, the same pace as in 2018.
  • The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.65% as of Jan. 16, according to Freddie Mac, down from 4.45% a year ago.

Watch this space: “Price appreciation has rapidly accelerated, and areas that are relatively unaffordable or declining in affordability are starting to experience slower job growth,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement.

  • “The hope is for price appreciation to slow in line with wage growth, which is about 3%.”

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

4 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.

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