Pending Home Sales Fall 2.6 Percent in August; 2017 Forecast Downgraded

Pending home sales sank in August for the fifth time in six months, and slower activity in the areas hit hard by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will likely pull existing sales for the year below the pace set in 2016, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index,*www.nar.realtor/topics/pending-home-sales, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, retreated 2.6 percent to 106.3 in August from 109.1 in July. The index is now at its lowest reading since January 2016 (106.1), is 2.6 percent below a year ago, and has fallen on an annual basis in four of the past five months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says this summer’s terribly low supply levels have officially drained all of the housing market’s momentum over the past year. “August was another month of declining contract activity because of the one-two punch of limited listings and home prices rising far above incomes,” he said. “Demand continues to overwhelm supply in most of the country, and as a result, many would-be buyers from earlier in the year are still in the market for a home, while others have perhaps decided to temporarily postpone their search.”

With little relief expected from the housing shortages that continue to plague several areas, Yun believes the housing market has essentially stalled. Further complicating any sales improvement in the months ahead is the fact that Hurricane Harvey’s damage to the Houston region contributed to the South’s decline in contract signings in August, and will likely continue to do so in the months ahead. Furthermore, the temporary pause in activity in Florida this month in the wake of Hurricane Irma will slow overall sales even more in the South.

Yun now forecasts existing-home sales to close out the year at around 5.44 million, which comes in slightly below (0.2 percent) the pace set in 2016 (5.45 million). The national median existing-home price this year is expected to increase around 6 percent. In 2016, existing sales increased 3.8 percent and prices rose 5.1 percent.

“The supply and affordability headwinds would have likely held sales growth just a tad above last year, but coupled with the temporary effects from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, sales in 2017 now appear will fall slightly below last year,” said Yun. “The good news is that nearly all of the missed closings for the remainder of the year will likely show up in 2018, with existing sales forecast to rise 6.9 percent.”

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 4.4 percent to 93.4 in August, and is now 4.1 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest the index decreased 1.5 percent to 101.8 in August, and is now 3.2 percent lower than August 2016.

Pending home sales in the South retreated 3.5 percent to an index of 118.8 in August and are now 1.7 percent below last August. The index in the West declined 1.0 percent in August to 101.3, and is 2.4 percent below 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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* 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 September Housing Minute video will be released September 28 at 2:00 p.m., Existing-Home Sales for September will be reported October 20, and the next Pending Home Sales Index will be October 26; all release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.

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