Thursday, February 28, 2013 / by Carlos J Higareda
Pending home sales rose in January, and have been above year-ago levels for the past 21 months, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. There were healthy monthly gains in all regions but the West, which, despite being constrained by limited inventory, still improved slightly.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 4.5 percent to 105.9 in January from a downwardly revised 101.3 in December and is 9.5 percent above January 2012, when it was 96.7. The data reflect contracts but not closings.
The January index is the highest reading since April 2010, when it hit 110.9, just before the deadline for the home buyer tax credit. Aside from spikes induced by the tax credits, the last time there was a higher reading was in February 2007 when it reached 107.9.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said inventory is the key to this year’s housing market. “Favorable affordability conditions and job growth have unleashed a pent-up demand. Most areas are drawing down housing inventory, which has shifted the supply-demand balance to sellers in much of the country. It’s also why we’re experiencing the strongest price growth in more than seven years,” he said.
“Over the near term, rising contract activity means higher home sales, but total sales for the year are expected to rise less than in 2012, while home prices are projected to rise more strongly because of inventory shortages,” Yun said.
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 8.2 percent to 84.8 in January and is 10.5 percent higher than January 2012. In the Midwest, the index increased 4.5 percent to 105.0 in January and is 17.7 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 5.9 percent to an index of 119.3 in January and are 11.3 percent higher January 2012. In the West, the index edged up 0.1 percent in January to 102.1 but is 1.5 percent below a year ago.
Yun expects approximately 5.0 million existing-home sales this year. However, price growth could exceed a 7 percent gain projected for 2013 if inventory supplies remain low. Previously, NAR had expected 5.1 million existing-home sales in 2013, while prices were forecast to rise 5.5 to 6.0 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.
Also released today are annual data revisions. Each February, NAR Research incorporates a review of seasonal activity factors and fine-tunes historic data for the past three years based on the most recent findings. There are no changes to unadjusted or annual data.