Pending Home Sales Index Crosses The 100 Barrier

Pending Home Sales 2010-2012

After a series of worse-than-expected data last month, the housing market appears to be back on track.

The Pending Home Sales Index posted 101.4 in March, a four percent gain from the month prior and the index’s highest reading since April 2010 — the last month of that year’s federal home buyer tax credit.

A “pending home” is a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. The Pending Home Sales Index is tracked and published by the National Association of REALTORS® monthly.

The March report marks the index’s first 100-plus reading in nearly two years.

To home buyers and sellers , this is statistically significant because the Pending Home Sales Index is normalized to 100, a value corresponding to the average home contract activity in 2001, the index’s first year of existence. 2001 was an historically-strong year for the housing market.

The March 2012 Pending Home Sales Index, therefore, puts current market activity on par with market activity from 2001.

You wouldn’t know it from reading this week’s papers, though. There have been stories about how the Case-Shiller Index put home values at new loans; and how the Existing Home Sales figures unexpectedly dropped off; and how the New Home Sales report was a laggard.

But this is why the Pending Home Sales Index can be so important.

What makes the Pending Home Sales Index different from those other data points is that the Pending Home Sales Index is a “forward-looking” housing market indicator.

Unlike most data which aims to tell us how the housing market performed at some point in the past, the Pending Home Sales Index attempts to tell us how the housing market will perform at some point in the future. 

80% of homes under contract close within 2 months. Many more close within months 3-4. Therefore, on the strength of the March Pending Home Sales Index, we should expect a strong April and May nationwide

If you’re shopping for homes right now, consider taking advantage while the market remains somewhat soft. Mortgage rates are low and home prices are, too. It can make for a good home-buying conditions.

Existing Home Sales Slip In March

Existing Home Sales In March, for the second straight month, home resales slipped nationwide.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, March 2012 Existing Home Sales fell to 4.48 million units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis — a 3 percent drop from February.

An “existing home” is a home that’s been previously occupied or owned.

The weaker-than-expected Existing Home Sales data is the third such housing report this month to suggest a lull in the spring housing market. Earlier this week, homebuilder confidence slipped for the first time in three months and March Single-Family Housing Starts fell, too.

The news wasn’t entirely bad for home resales, however. Although total home units sold decreased, so did the number of homes available for sale. There were just 2.37 million homes for sale nationwide in March, a 2 percent drop from the month prior.

At the current pace of sales, therefore, the entire nation’s home resale stock would “sell out” in 6.3 months. This is the second-fastest pace since the housing market’s April 2007 peak.  

A 6-month supply is widely believed to represent a market in balance between buyers and sellers.

The March Existing Home Sales data shows that — despite record-low mortgage rates nationwide – buyer activity is slowing, and seller activity may be slowing, too.

So long as the two forces remain in balance, home prices should do the same. This is the law of Supply and Demand at work. 

However, if home sales continue to slide and home inventory builds, buyers may find themselves with an edge in negotiations. 

If you’re planning to buy a home in 2012, the long-term housing trend is still toward recovery. This season may be a good time to look at your options. Talk to your real estate agent to see what’s available. Low mortgage rates may persist, but low home prices may not.

Pending Home Sales Index Remains Strong Into Spring

Pending Home Sales IndexThe housing market took a step back in February, but remains near post-recession highs.

According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, February’s Pending Home Sales Index slipped 0.5 percent from the month prior, to 96.5.

The Pending Home Sales Index is a monthly report which measures the number of homes under contract to sell, but not yet sold, nationwide.

The index is benchmarked to a value of 100, the average level of home contract activity in 2001, the first year that pending home sales data was analyzed. It also happened to be a year of historically-high levels of home contract activity. Therefore, a Pending Home Sales Index reading of 100 suggests a strong housing market nationwide.

The index has read north of 90 since October 2011.

On a regional basis, February’s Pending Home Sales Index varied :

  • Northeast Region: -0.5 percent from January 2012
  • Midwest Region : +5.7 percent from January 2012
  • South Region : -3.3 percent from January 2012
  • West Region : -2.6 percent from January 2012

Mild weather may have helped the Midwest Region last month but even regional data can only tell us so much. Like everything in real estate, housing data must be local to be relevant.

Throughout the South Region, for example, the area in which contract activity fell most on a monthly basis, there are states which performed better than the regional average, and states which performed worse. Furthermore, even within those states, there are some cities which over-performed, and others which underperformed.

It’s why we can’t put too much stock in national housing news. Buyers don’t buy nationally — they buy locally.

Today’s home buyers and sellers , therefore, should look beyond the national Pending Home Sales Index and into local market drivers. The Pending Home Sales Index can paint a broad picture of the U.S. housing market but for data that matters to you specifically, it’s not as widely helpful. 

To get relevant, timely local real estate data, talk to a real estate professional.

Existing Home Sales Stay Strong; Spring Season Underway

Existing Home Sales

The market for home resales stays strong.

Despite sparse home inventory, the National Association of REALTORS® reports that 4.59 million existing homes were sold in February on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. An “existing home” is a home that cannot be classified as new construction.

Last month’s sales data represents a 9 percent improvement from the year prior.

There are now just 2.43 million homes for sale nationwide — a 19% reduction versus a year ago. The complete home inventory would “sell out” in 6.4 months at the current sales pace.

Some analysts believe that a 6-month home supply indicates a housing market in balance.

The real estate trade group’s report contained other noteworthy statistics, too :

  1. 32 percent of home sales were made to first-time buyers
  2. 33 percent of home sales were made with cash (i.e. no mortgage)
  3. 34 percent of home sales were of foreclosed homes or homes in short sale

In addition, nearly one-third of all home sales “failed” last month, the result of homes not appraising at the purchase price; or, the buyer’s inability to secure mortgage financing; or, insurmountable home inspection issues.

Even accounting for last month’s high contract failure rate,though,  the Existing Home Sales report still posted its second-highest reading since May 2010. For today’s home buyer, the data may be a “buy signal”.

As compared to last fall, home supplies are down and home sales are up. Basic economics tell us that home prices should start to rise shortly — if they haven’t already. After all, the Existing Home Sales data is 30 days old, reporting on February. It’s nearly April today.

The good news is that homes remain affordable. With conforming and FHA mortgage rates in the low-4 percent range, home affordability is at its highest in history. Home prices may rise this spring, but at least your mortgage payment should remain low.

Pending Home Sales Rise To 22-Month High

Pending Home Sales Index 2011-2012The housing market appears headed for a strong spring season.

After a brief setback in December, the Pending Home Sales Index resumed its climb in January, posting a 2 percent gain over the month prior.

The data puts pressure on home buyers. This is because a “pending home” is a home that’s under contract to sell, but has not yet sold. It’s tracked by the National Association of REALTORS® and, among all housing statistics, it’s the only one that’s “forward-looking”.

The Pending Home Sales Index is important to home buyers because 80% of homes under contract to sell close within 60 days of contract. In this way, the Pending Home Sales Index forecasts the housing market 1-2 months into the future.

This is very different from how NAR’s Existing Home Sales report works; or, how the Census Bureau’s New Home Sales report works. These two metrics tell us what’s already happened in housing.

By contrast, the Pending Home Sales Index tells us what’s coming next.

January’s Pending Home Sales Index reading lifts the monthly metric to its highest level since April 2010 — the month during which the 2010 federal home buyer tax credit expired — foreshadowing a strong housing market through March and April 2012, at least.

This should not be news, of course. The nation’s home builders have said “foot traffic” is rising and home supplies are scarce nationwide. The only wild-card for housing is the high contract cancellation rate.

As compared to last January when just 9 percent of home purchase contracts “failed”, this January saw 33 percent of contracts fail. High failure rates undermine the Pending Home Sales Index’s viability as a forward-looking housing market indicator.

Despite contract failures, though, the combination of low mortgage rates and low home prices is enticing to today’s home buyers. Expect home sales to climb in the coming weeks which will lead to a strong spring season for housing. 

Existing Home Sales Climb To A 20-Month Record

Existing home supplyJanuary’s home resales moved to a 20-month high — additional evidence that the nation’s housing recovery is underway.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the January 2012 Existing Home Sales showed 4.57 million units sold last month on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis — a 4 percent increase as compared to December’s revised figures.

An “existing home” is one that’s been previously occupied and cannot be categorized as new construction.

Beyond the headline numbers, though, there was plenty about which for today’s home sellers to get excited. Demand for homes remains strong, foreshadowing higher home prices through 2012.

First, the national housing stock is at a 5-year low.

In January, the number of homes for sale nationwide slipped to 2.31 million, the smallest home inventory since February 2007, and a 21% decrease from just one year ago.

Falling home supply amid constant home demand leads home prices higher. At the current pace of sales, today’s complete home inventory would “sell out” in 6.1 months. 

Analysts say that a 6-month supply is a market in balance. Anything less is Bull Market territory.

Second, the National Association of REALTORS® says that one-third of all homes under contract “failed” last month. This means that many more buyers tried to buy, but couldn’t for a number of reasons including mortgage denials; or, insurmountable home inspections issues; or, homes appraising for less than the contract price.

As contract failures subside, Existing Home Sales are expected to rise even faster.

And, lastly, first-time buyers continue to power the home resale market. In January, 33% of all sales were made to first-time buyers, up four points from last year. This statistic suggests that renters are moving into homeownership, an important component in a sustained housing market recovery.  

Given high demand and shrinking supply, we should expect for home prices to rise in the coming months, if they haven’t already. Thankfully, mortgage rates remain near all-time lows.

Low mortgage rates make homes more affordable.

Pending Home Sales Index Posts Second Best Month Since April 2010

Pending Home Sales 2011

After 3 consecutive months of growth, the housing market appears to have eased a bit in December.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, December’s Pending Home Sales Index slipped 4 percent from the month prior. The index measures the number of homes under contract to sell nationwide, but not yet sold.

Despite falling below its benchmark “100 value”, December’s Pending Home Sales Index is the reading’s second-highest value since April 2010 — the last month of last year’s home buyer tax credit program.

In other words, the housing market continues to show signs of improvement, propelled by low home prices and the cheapest mortgage rates of all-time.

Freddie Mac’s mortgage rate survey put the 30-year fixed rate mortgage at an average of 3.96% in December — a 75-basis point improvement from December 2010. This helps to make homes more affordable nationwide.

On a regional basis, December’s Pending Home Sales Index varied :

  • Northeast Region: -3.1 percent from November 2011
  • Midwest Region : +4.0 percent from November 2011 
  • South Region : -2.6 percent from November 2011
  • West Region : -11.0 percent from November 2011

But even regional data is only so helpful. Like everything in real estate, data must be local to be relevant.

Throughout the West Region, for example, the U.S. region in which pending home sales fell the most, several states must have performed better than the regional average. And, undoubtedly, there were cities, towns, and neighborhoods that experienced marked market growth.

Unfortunately, the Pending Home Sales Index can’t capture that data. Nor can it identify the markets in which home sales suffered.

For today’s home buyers and sellers, therefore, it’s important to understand your local market and the drivers of local activity. Reports like the Pending Home Sales Index can paint a broad picture U.S. housing but for data that matters to you, you’ll want to look local.

For local real estate data, talk to an experienced real estate professional.

Existing Home Sales Approach Bull Market Territory

Existing Home Supply 2011The housing market finished 2011 with strength, and is carrying measurable momentum into 2012. 

According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, December’s Existing Home Sales climbed by 120,00 units overall from the month prior on its way to an 11-month high.

An “existing home” is a home that’s been previously occupied; that cannot be considered new construction.

After 4.61 million existing homes were sold in December, there are now just 2.38 million homes for sale nationwide. The last time the national home supply was this sparse was March 2005.

At today’s sales pace, the complete, national home inventory would be exhausted in 6.2 months — the fastest pace since before the recession. A 6.0-month supply is believed to represent a market in balance. 

The December Existing Home Sales report contained noteworthy foreclosure and short sale statistics, too :

  • Foreclosures sold at an average discount of 22% to market value
  • Short sales sold at an average discount of 13% to market value
  • Together, foreclosures and short sales accounted for 32% of all home sales

Clearly, “distressed homes” remain a large part of the U.S. housing market.

Furthermore, in its report, the real estate trade group also noted that one-third of homes under contract to sell nationwide succumbed to contract failure last month. That’s up from 9% one year ago.

Contract failure occurs for a multitude of reasons, most notably homes appraising for less than the purchase price; the buyer’s failure to achieve a mortgage approval; and, insurmountable home inspection issues. December’s high failure rate underscores the importance of getting pre-approved as a buyer, and of buying homes in “good condition”.

For today’s home buyer , December’s Existing Home Sales figures may be construed as a “buy signal”. Home supplies are dropping and buyer demand is rising. This is the basic recipe for higher home prices ahead.

If your 2012 plans call for buying a home, consider that home values are expected to rise as the year progresses. The best values of the year may be the ones secured this winter.