National Association of Realtors
1 September 2016
Pending home sales expanded in most of the country in July and reached their second highest reading in over a decade, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Only the Midwest saw a dip in contract activity last month.
The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 1.3 percent to 111.3 in July from a downwardly revised 109.9 in June and is now 1.4 percent higher than July 2015 (109.8). The index is now at its second highest reading this year after April (115.0).
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says a sizable jump in the West lifted pending home sales higher in July. “Amidst tight inventory conditions that have lingered the entire summer, contract activity last month was able to pick up at least modestly in a majority of areas,” he said. “More home shoppers having success is good news for the housing market heading into the fall, but buyers still have few choices and little time before deciding to make an offer on a home available for sale. There’s little doubt there’d be more sales activity right now if there were more affordable listings on the market.”
Adds Yun, “The index in the West last month was the highest in over three years 1 largely because of stronger labor market conditions. If homebuilding increases in the region to tame price growth and alleviate the ongoing affordability concerns, the healthy rate of job gains should support more sales.”
Recent residential construction data shows that the size and costs of new homes has moved downward over the past year. According to Yun, this is an early indication that homebuilders are beginning to shift away from building larger, more expensive homes for the upper end of the market to focusing more on properties geared for buyers in the middle and lower price tiers.
“Realtors® in several high-cost areas have been saying for quite a while that there is robust demand for single-family starter homes and townhomes at an affordable price point for young buyers,” adds Yun. “The homeownership rate won’t move up from its over 50-year low 2 without a meaningful boost from first-time buyers, whose participation has yet to noticeably increase so far this year despite mortgage rates near all-time lows 3.”
Existing-home sales this year are forecast to be around 5.38 million, a 2.8 percent increase from 2015 and the highest annual pace since 2006 (6.48 million). After accelerating to 6.8 percent a year ago, national median existing-home price growth is forecast to slightly moderate to around 4 percent.
The PHSI in the Northeast moved up 0.8 percent to 96.8 in July, and is now 1.1 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index decreased 2.9 percent to 105.8 in July, and is now 1.1 percent lower than July 2015.
Pending home sales in the South inched higher (0.8 percent) to an index of 123.9 in July and are now 0.4 percent higher than last July. The index in the West surged 7.3 percent in July to 108.7, and is now 6.2 percent above a year ago.
1 The PHSI in the West in July was the highest since June 2013.
2 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the homeownership rate is currently at 62.9 percent, which is the lowest since 1965.
3 According to the Realtors® Confidence Index, sales to first-time buyers in 2016 have averaged 31 percent through July; they were 30 percent in 2015. NAR’s 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, representing transactions purchased between July 2014 and June of 2015, found that first-time buyers were 32 percent, the lowest since 1987 (30 percent). The average share in the survey’s 34-year history is 39 percent.
* The Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes. A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed, though the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing.
The index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.
An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined. By coincidence, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell within the range of 5.0 to 5.5 million, which is considered normal for the current U.S. population.
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