WASHINGTON (June 28, 2017) — The ongoing supply shortages that are propping up home prices in many metro areas caused pending home sales in May to slump for the third consecutive month, according to the National Association of Realtors®. None of the major regions saw an increase in contract activity last month.
The Pending Home Sales Index,* www.nar.realtor/topics/pending-home-sales, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, decreased 0.8 percent to 108.5 in May from a downwardly revised 109.4 in April. The index is now 1.7 percent below a year ago, which marks the second straight annual decline and the most recent since November and December of last year.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says it's clear the critically low inventory levels in much of the country somewhat sidetracked the housing market this spring. "Monthly closings have recently been oscillating back and forth, but this third consecutive decline in contract activity implies a possible topping off in sales," he said. "Buyer interest is solid, but there is just not enough supply to satisfy demand. Prospective buyers are being sidelined by both limited choices and home prices that are climbing too fast."
The persistent housing shortages seen in several markets are most severe, according to Yun, in the lower price ranges. That's very apparent when looking at the percent change in closings in May compared to a year ago. Sales of homes under $100,000 last month were down 7.2 percent from last year and up only 2.0 percent for those between $100,000 and $250,000. In higher price brackets, sales expanded incrementally all the way up to massive increases of 26.0 percent for homes priced between $750,000 and $1 million and even more for those $1 million and up (29.1 percent).
Weaker financial and economic confidence could also be playing a role in the slowdown in contract activity. NAR's quarterly Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey, released earlier this week, found that fewer renters think it's a good time to buy a home, and respondents overall are less confident about the economy and their financial situation than earlier this year.
"The lack of listings in the affordable price range are creating lopsided conditions in many areas where investors and repeat buyers with larger down payments are making up a bulk of the sales activity," said Yun. "Meanwhile, many prospective first-time buyers can't catch a break. Prices are going up and there's intense competition for the homes they're financially able to purchase."
Existing-home sales are forecast to be around 5.63 million this year, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2016 (5.45 million). The national median existing-home price this year is expected to increase around 5 percent. In 2016, existing sales increased 3.8 percent and prices rose 5.1 percent.
"A much higher share of homeowners compared to a year ago think now is a good time to sell1, but until they do, sales will likely stay flat and low inventory will keep price growth moving swiftly," said Yun.
The PHSI in the Northeast decreased 0.8 percent to 96.4 in May, but remains 3.1 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index was 104.5 in May (unchanged from April), and is 2.8 percent lower than May 2016.
Pending home sales in the South declined 1.2 percent to an index of 123.4 in May and are now 1.4 percent below last May. The index in the West subsided 1.3 percent in May to 98.6, and is now 4.5 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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1NAR's Q2 HOME survey additionally found that 71 percent of homeowners think it's a good time to sell, which is up from 69 percent last quarter and 61 percent a year ago.
* 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: Existing-Home Sales for June will be reported July 24, and the next Pending Home Sales Index will be July 31; all release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.