WASHINGTON (January 30, 2017) — Pending home sales picked up in December as solid increases in the South and West offset weakening activity in the Northeast and Midwest, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 1.6 percent to 109.0 in December from 107.3 in November. With last month's uptick in activity, the index is now 0.3 percent above last December (108.7).
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says contract activity was mixed throughout the country in December but ultimately ended on a high note to close out 2016. "Pending sales rebounded last month as enough buyers fended off rising mortgage rates and alarmingly low inventory levels1 to sign a contract," he said. "The main storyline in the early months of 2017 will be if supply can meaningfully increase to keep price growth at a moderate enough level for households to absorb higher borrowing costs. Sales will struggle to build on last year's strong pace if inventory conditions don't improve."
According to Yun, a large portion of overall supply right now is at the upper end of the market. This is evident by looking at December data on the year-over-year change in single-family sales by price range. Last month, sales were up around 10 percent compared to December 2015 for homes sold at or above $250,000, while homes sold between $100,000 and $250,000 only increased 2.3 percent. Meanwhile, sales of homes under $100,000 were down 11.6 percent compared to a year ago.
"The dismal number of listings in the affordable price range is squeezing prospective first-time buyers the most," said Yun. "As a result, young households are missing out on the wealth gains most homeowners have accrued from the 41 percent cumulative rise in existing home prices since 2011."
Existing-home sales are forecast to be around 5.54 million this year, an increase of 1.7 percent from 2016, which was the best year of sales since 2006. The national median existing-home price in 2017 is expected to increase around 4 percent. In 2016, existing sales increased 3.8 percent and prices rose 5.2 percent.
Yun expects housing starts – which for another year undershot overall demand – to jump to around 1.26 million units, an increase of 7.9 percent from 2016 (1.16 million).
"Especially if construction-related regulations are relaxed, all eyes will be on the homebuilding industry this year to see if they can finally start making up lost ground on the severe housing shortages impacting much of the country," added Yun.
The PHSI in the Northeast declined 1.6 percent to 96.4 in December, and is now 1.2 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest the index decreased 0.8 percent to 102.7 in December, and is now 3.4 percent lower than December 2015.
Pending home sales in the South rose 2.4 percent to an index of 121.3 in December and are now 0.5 percent above last December. The index in the West jumped 5.0 percent in December to 106.1, and is now 5.0 percent higher than a year ago.
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.
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1Total housing inventory at the end of December was at 1.65 million existing homes available for sale, which is the lowest level since NAR began tracking the supply of all housing types in 1999.
* 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.
NOTE: NAR's metropolitan area home price report for the fourth quarter of 2016 will be released February 9, Existing-Home Sales for January will be reported February 22, the first quarter Commercial Real Estate Report/Forecast will be released on February 23, and the next Pending Home Sales Index will be February 27; all release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.