Pending Sales Decline, But Up from Last Year

Washington -- Pending home sales retrenched in April following three consecutive monthly gains, but are notably higher than a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, declined 5.5 percent to 95.5 from a downwardly revised 101.1 in March but is 14.4 percent above April 2011 when it was 83.5.  The data reflects contracts but not closings.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said a one-month setback in light of many months of gains does not change the fundamentally improving housing market conditions.  “Home contract activity has been above year-ago levels now for 12 consecutive months. The housing recovery momentum continues,” he said.

Yun notes home sales are staying well above the levels seen from 2008 through 2011.  “Housing market activity has clearly broken out at notably higher levels and is on track to see the best performance since 2007,” he said.  “All of the major housing market indicators are expected to trend gradually up, but a new federal budget must be passed before the end of the year for the economy to continue to move forward.”

The housing forecast has been upgraded, with existing-home sales expected to reach 4.66 million this year, compared with 4.26 million in 2011.  The outlook for 2013 is now 4.92 million, but could vary significantly depending on two scenarios.

If lending returns to normal, the 2013 outlook for existing-home sales would measurably improve to 5.3 million.  However, a fiscal cliff scenario of higher taxes and sharp spending cuts beginning in early 2013, which is an unlikely event but still worth noting, would lower the sales projection to 4.5 million.

Because of measurably lower inventory supplies, the forecast for home prices has been upwardly revised with the median existing-home price projected to rise 2 to 3 percent this year and 4 to 5 percent in 2013, with wide local market variations.  Miami and Phoenix will easily achieve double-digit price growth by year end.

Though the proportion of distressed properties is still high, the numbers have been falling over the past two years.  “The diminishing share of distressed properties is another reason for higher home prices in upcoming months,” Yun added.

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