Uptrend continues in pending home sales

Washington, August 04, 2009 – Pending home sales are up for the fifth consecutive month, the first time in six years for such a streak, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in June, rose 3.6 percent to 94.6 from an upwardly revised reading of 91.3 in May, and is 6.7 percent above June 2008 when it was 88.7. The last time there were five consecutive monthly gains was in July 2003.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said a combination of positive market factors is fueling the gains. “Historically low mortgage interest rates, affordable home prices and large selection are encouraging buyers who’ve been on the sidelines. Activity has been consistently much stronger for lower priced homes,” he said. “Because it may take as long as two months to close on a home after signing a contract, first-time buyers must act fairly soon to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit because they must close on the sale by November 30.”

The Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast rose 0.4 percent to 81.2 in June and is 5.8 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index increased 0.8 percent to 89.9 and is 11.6 percent above June 2008. The index in the South jumped 7.1 percent to 100.7 in June and is 8.9 percent higher than a year ago. In the West the index rose 2.9 percent to 100.4 but is 0.2 percent below June 2008.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, is hopeful that a recently elevated level of contract cancellations will ease. “Last month, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae clarified that appraisals should be done by professionals with clear local expertise,” he said. “This should mitigate the situation of many valuations done by out-of-area appraisers coming in below the price negotiated between buyers and sellers. Hopefully, in the months ahead, we’ll see an even closer relationship between contract activity and closed transactions.”

McMillan said NAR is continuing to press the appraisal issue. “We have asked Congress and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to immediately implement an 18-month moratorium on the new appraisal rules to further address unintended consequences of the new guidelines,” he said.

NAR’s Housing Affordability Index2 remains very favorable. The affordability index stood at 159.2 in June, down from record peaks in recent months but it remains 36.6 percentage points above a year ago. Under these conditions the typical family would devote 15.7 percent of gross income to mortgage principal and interest, well below the standard allowance of 25 percent.

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 monthly rise in home prices and somewhat higher mortgage interest rates led to a modest decline in affordability in June, but it was still the sixth highest index on record dating back to 1970,” Yun said. “Because housing is so affordable in today’s market, job security and the first-time buyer tax credit are bigger factors in influencing home sales.”

A median-income family, earning $60,700, could afford a home costing $289,100 in June 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 much higher than the median existing single-family home price in June, which was $181,600.

Yun expects existing-home sales to gradually rise over the balance of the year, with conditions varying around the country. “It appears home sales are on a sounder footing and inventory is gradually being absorbed.”

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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