Uptrend Continues in Pending Home Sales

By
Real Estate Broker Owner with RE/MAX Preferred Associates

Washington, August 04, 2009

Pending home sales are up for the fifth consecutive month, the first time in six years for such a streak, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index,1 a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in June, rose 3.6 percent to 94.6 from an upwardly revised reading of 91.3 in May, and is 6.7 percent above June 2008 when it was 88.7.  The last time there were five consecutive monthly gains was in July 2003.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said a combination of positive market factors is fueling the gains.  "Historically low mortgage interest rates, affordable home prices and large selection are encouraging buyers who've been on the sidelines.  Activity has been consistently much stronger for lower priced homes," he said.  "Because it may take as long as two months to close on a home after signing a contract, first-time buyers must act fairly soon to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit because they must close on the sale by November 30."

The Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast rose 0.4 percent to 81.2 in June and is 5.8 percent above a year ago.  In the Midwest the index increased 0.8 percent to 89.9 and is 11.6 percent above June 2008.  The index in the South jumped 7.1 percent to 100.7 in June and is 8.9 percent higher than a year ago.  In the West the index rose 2.9 percent to 100.4 but is 0.2 percent below June 2008.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, is hopeful that a recently elevated level of contract cancellations will ease.  "Last month, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae clarified that appraisals should be done by professionals with clear local expertise," he said.  "This should mitigate the situation of many valuations done by out-of-area appraisers coming in below the price negotiated between buyers and sellers.  Hopefully, in the months ahead, we'll see an even closer relationship between contract activity and closed transactions."

McMillan said NAR is continuing to press the appraisal issue.  "We have asked Congress and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to immediately implement an 18-month moratorium on the new appraisal rules to further address unintended consequences of the new guidelines," he said.

NAR's Housing Affordability Index2 remains very favorable.  The affordability index stood at 159.2 in June, down from record peaks in recent months but it remains 36.6 percentage points above a year ago.  Under these conditions the typical family would devote 15.7 percent of gross income to mortgage principal and interest, well below the standard allowance of 25 percent.

The HAI is a broad measure of housing affordability using consistent values and assumptions over time, which examines the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income.

"A monthly rise in home prices and somewhat higher mortgage interest rates led to a modest decline in affordability in June, but it was still the sixth highest index on record dating back to 1970," Yun said.  "Because housing is so affordable in today's market, job security and the first-time buyer tax credit are bigger factors in influencing home sales."

A median-income family, earning $60,700, could afford a home costing $289,100 in June with a 20 percent downpayment, assuming 25 percent of gross income is devoted to mortgage principal and interest.  Affordability conditions for first-time buyers with the same income and small downpayments are roughly 80 percent of what a median-income family can afford.  The affordable price was much higher than the median existing single-family home price in June, which was $181,600.

Yun expects existing-home sales to gradually rise over the balance of the year, with conditions varying around the country.  "It appears home sales are on a sounder footing and inventory is gradually being absorbed."

The National Association of Realtors®, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

# # #

1The 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 from 2001 through 2004 parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.  There is a closer relationship between annual index changes (from the same month a year earlier) and year-ago changes in sales performance than with month-to-month comparisons.

An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined as well as the first of five consecutive record years for existing-home sales.

2The Housing Affordability Index is a relative index where a value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced existing single-family home, taking into account the relationship between median home price, average effective interest rate for loans closed on existing homes, and median family income.  The higher the index, the better housing affordability is for buyers.

The calculation assumes a downpayment of 20 percent and a qualifying ratio of 25 percent of gross income for mortgage principle and interest payments.  The index is a general gauge with conditions varying widely around the country.  Affordability conditions are lower for first-time buyers with smaller downpayments and less income.

Monthly publication of the index began in 1981 with annual data calculated back to 1970.

Existing-home sales for July will be released August 21; the next Pending Home Sales Index will be on September 1.

Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org. This and other news releases are posted in the News Media section.  Statistical data, tables and surveys also may be found by clicking on Research.

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