Washington, July 01, 2009
Pending home sales show a sustained uptrend, rising for four consecutive months with very favorable housing affordability and a first-time buyer tax credit boosting activity, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
The Pending Home Sales Index,1 a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in May, increased 0.1 percent to 90.7 from an upwardly revised reading of 90.6 in April, and is 6.7 percent higher than May 2008 when it was 85.0. The last time there were four consecutive monthly gains was in October 2004.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, cautions that there could be delays in the number of contracts that go to closing. “Closed existing-home sales have improved but are coming in lower than expected because some contracts are delayed or falling through from the application of new appraisal rules for many transactions,” he said. “Rises in contract activity show buyers are becoming more active even as they face much more stringent loan underwriting standards. Speedy clarification of the appraisal rules could smooth a housing market recovery and support the overall economy.”
The Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast rose 3.1 percent to 80.9 in May and is 6.8 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index slipped 1.3 percent to 89.2 but is 11.4 percent above May 2008. The index in the South declined 1.7 percent to 92.6 in May but is 7.9 percent higher than a year ago. In the West the index rose 2.2 percent to 96.9 and is 0.7 percent above May 2008.
NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said the appraisal issue is complicated. “We see that distressed homes often are selling for 20 percent less than normal homes in the same area, but some appraisals don’t distinguish between traditional homes and distressed property,” he said. “In many cases appraisers from outside the area are being used, but as everyone knows real estate is local and appraisals should be done by an expert with local expertise.”
McMillan said sellers shouldn’t hesitate to speak with an appraiser about their home. “Sellers should feel free to tell an appraiser about improvements and renovations to their home, and how it compares with other homes in the neighborhood,” he said.
“Also, if recent sales in the neighborhood were discounted, but not similar to your home in terms of quality or condition, that should be pointed out. It wouldn’t hurt to put all this in writing, especially if an appraiser is not familiar with your area. A Realtor® could offer guidance and information to help you with this process.”
NAR’s Housing Affordability Index2 remains at historic highs. The affordability index fell to 171.6 in May from an upwardly revised 178.8 in April, which was the highest on record dating back to 1970. “Under these conditions the typical family would devote only 14.6 percent of gross income to mortgage principal and interest, which is one of the lowest percentages on record,” Yun said.
The HAI is a broad measure of housing affordability using consistent values and assumptions over time, which examines the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income.
A median-income family, earning $60,800, could afford a home costing $296,700 in May with a 20 percent downpayment, assuming 25 percent of gross income is devoted to mortgage principal and interest. Affordability conditions for first-time buyers with the same income and small downpayments are roughly 80 percent of what a median-income family can afford. The affordable price was significantly higher than the median existing single-family home price in May, which was $172,900.
The first-time buyer tax credit also is benefiting the market. “Strong activity by entry level buyers is helping to absorb inventory and allow some existing owners to make a trade,” Yun said.
Existing-home sales should trend up through the end of the year, with normal local market differences. “The big question is how much the appraisal issue will impact the ability of contracts to go to closing,” Yun said. “We are currently conducting a study to assess the degree to which new appraisal rules are impacting home sales.”
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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1The 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 from 2001 through 2004 parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months. There is a closer relationship between annual index changes (from the same month a year earlier) and year-ago changes in sales performance than with month-to-month comparisons.
An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined as well as the first of five consecutive record years for existing-home sales.
2The Housing Affordability Index is a relative index where a value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced existing single-family home, taking into account the relationship between median home price, average effective interest rate for loans closed on existing homes, and median family income. The higher the index, the better housing affordability is for buyers.
The calculation assumes a downpayment of 20 percent and a qualifying ratio of 25 percent of gross income for mortgage principle and interest payments. The index is a general gauge with conditions varying widely around the country. Affordability conditions are lower for first-time buyers with smaller downpayments and less income.
Monthly publication of the index began in 1981 with annual data calculated back to 1970.
Existing-home sales for June will be released July 23; the next Pending Home Sales Index will be on August 4.
Professional Land Surveyor Source: National Association of Realtors