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PALM COAST, FL — February 28, 2017 — Insufficient supply levels led to a lull in contract activity in the Midwest and West, which dragged down pending home sales in January to their lowest level in a year, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, decreased 2.8 percent to 106.4 in January from an upwardly revised 109.5 in December 2016. Although last month's index reading is 0.4 percent above last January, it is the lowest since then.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says home shoppers in January faced numerous obstacles in their quest to buy a home. "The significant shortage of listings last month along with deteriorating affordability as the result of higher home prices and mortgage rates kept many would-be buyers at bay," he said. "Buyer traffic is easily outpacing seller traffic in several metro areas and is why homes are selling at a much faster rate than a year ago (1). Most notably in the West, it's not uncommon to see a home come off the market within a month."
According to Yun, interest in buying a home is the highest it has been since the Great Recession. Households are feeling more confident about their financial situation, job growth is strong in most of the country and the stock market has seen record gains in recent months. While these factors bode favorably for increased sales in coming months, buyers are dealing with challenging supply shortages that continue to run up prices in many areas.
"January's accelerated price appreciation (2) is concerning because it's over double the pace of income growth and mortgage rates are up considerably from six months ago," said Yun. "Especially in the most expensive markets, prospective buyers will feel this squeeze to their budget and will likely have to come up with additional savings or compromise on home size or location."
Existing-home sales are forecast to be around 5.57 million this year, an increase of 2.2 percent from 2016 (5.45 million). The national median existing-home price this year is expected to increase around 4 percent. In 2016, existing sales increased 3.8 percent and prices rose 5.1 percent.
"Sales got off to a fantastic start in January, but last month's retreat in contract signings indicates that activity will likely be choppy in coming months as buyers compete for the meager number of listings in their price range," added Yun.
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 2.3 percent to 98.7 in January, and is now 3.6 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index fell 5.0 percent to 99.5 in January, and is now 3.8 percent lower than January 2016.
Pending home sales in the South inched higher (0.4 percent) to an index of 122.5 in January and are now 2.0 percent above last January. The index in the West dropped 9.8 percent in January to 94.6, and is now 0.4 percent lower than a year ago.
(1) Properties typically stayed on the market for 50 days in January, down considerably from a year ago (64 days).
(2) January's median existing-home price increased 7.1 percent, which was the fastest since January 2016 (8.1 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.