Realtors: 2010 sales to rise 15 percent

NOVEMBER 13, 2009 – Home sales will increase 15 percent to about 5.7 million units and Realtor income will be up 20 percent in 2010, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun told a packed room of Realtors today in a residential economic update at the 2009 NAR Conference & Expo.

Yun credited the home buyer tax credit with unleashing sales on the lower-end of the housing market this year, bringing up to 400,000 first-time buyers into the market who wouldn't have bought otherwise. That influx tightened inventories of starter homes, shored up prices, and helped reduce households' fear over continuing price drops.

This virtuous cycle will continue now that the federal government has extended the credit to mid-2010 and expanded it to make a smaller credit available to repeat buyers and to households with higher incomes. “The key is stabilizing prices and preserving household wealth,” he says.

Yun predicts the supply of homes to stabilize at the historic norm of six to seven months. Homes above $500,000 will remain elevated in the near-term, but that weakness will be offset by a hefty drop in starter-home inventories, which are running at about a five months supply.

The tightening inventory at all price points will help improve market performance by bringing supply into better balance with demand, but the added sales, particularly on the higher end, will also increase the number and quality of the market comparables used by appraisers to assign valuations. Once appraisals improve, foreclosures will ease, blunting their drag on the market and making it less likely that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and even FHA will need help from the taxpayer.

“Then we’ll be set for a durable economic expansion,” he said.

New-home sales, which comprise about 10 percent of the market, will continue at suppressed levels--about 550,000 units, down from more than a million during the boom--mainly because builders have scaled projects way back, in part because financing isn't available.

"Weakness in new-home sales shouldn’t be viewed as tepid demand," he said.

Even under the most positive economic scenario, unemployment will remain elevated through 2010. Yun is predicting unemployment to stay near double-digits going into 2011, qualifying this recession, as some economists have, as the "Great Recession.”

For the longer term, the huge deficit run up by the federal government to shore up the economy remains the big question mark. Although the deficit is expected to improve each of the next three years, it will remain at historic highs. Unless the federal government releases a credible plan for shrinking it, investors will start to balk and interest rates will need to rise to bring them back. Should inflation be the result, the housing recovery will be set back.

Source: Robert Freedman, Realtor magazine

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