April 2014 Existing Home Sales Are Bad No Matter What Sweet Words the NAR Uses
Written by Steven Hansen
The headlines for existing home sales say that sales improved for the first time this year - but still declined year-over-year. Our analysis shows although sales were better than last month - it still was bad. The three month rolling averages are continuing to decline.
- Sales growth accelerated 1.0% month-over-month, down 7.2% year-over-year – sales growth rate trend is decelerating using the 3 month moving average.
- Prices growth decelerated 1.3% month-over-month, Up 3.7% year-over-year – price growth rate trend is decelerating using the 3 month moving average.
- The homes for sale inventory grew significantly this month, but is historically low for Aprils (but higher than inventory levels one year ago).
- Sales up 1.3% month-over-month, down 6.8% year-over-year.
- Prices up 5.2% year-over-year
- The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.60 to 4.90 million (consensus 4.69) vs the 4.65 million reported.
November 2013 ended 28 straight months of improving year-over-year home sales volumes (unadjusted data) – and the data this month continued the data contraction year-over-year.
Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes (blue line) – 3 Month Rolling Average (red line)
The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.
Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes
Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, expected the improvement. “Some growth was inevitable after sub-par housing activity in the first quarter, but improved inventory is expanding choices and sales should generally trend upward from this point,” he said. “Annual home sales, however, due to a sluggish first quarter, will likely be lower than last year.”
“We’ll continue to see a balancing act between housing inventory and price growth, which remains stronger than normal simply because there have not been enough sellers in many areas. More inventory and increased new-home construction will help to foster healthy market conditions,” Yun added.
NAR President Steve Brown said there was some heating of the market last month. “The typical time on market shrunk in April, with four out of 10 homes selling in less than a month,” he said. “Homes that show well and are properly priced tend to sell the fastest. More housing inventory gives buyers better choices, and takes the pressure off of the buying process, which is a welcome sign, especially for first-time buyers.”
Comparison of Home Price Indices – Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue line, left axis), CoreLogic (green line, left axis) and National Association of Realtors three month average (red line, right axis)
To remove the seasonality in home prices, here is a year-over-year graph which demonstrates a general decline in home price rate of growth.
Comparison of Home Price Indices on a Year-over-Year Basis – Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue bars), CoreLogic (yellow bars) and National Association of Realtors three month average (red bars)
Econintersect will do a more complete analysis of home prices when the Case-Shiller data is released. The graphs above on prices use a three month rolling average of the NAR data, and show a 5.2% year-over-year gain.
Homes today are still affordable according to the NAR’s Housing Affordability Index.
Unadjusted Home Affordability Index
This affordability index measures the degree to which a typical family can afford the monthly mortgage payments on a typical home.
Value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. An index above 100 signifies that family earning the median income has more than enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment. For example, a composite housing affordability index (COMPHAI) of 120.0 means a family earning the median family income has 120% of the income necessary to qualify for a conventional loan covering 80 percent of a median-priced existing single-family home. An increase in the COMPHAI then shows that this family is more able to afford the median priced home.
The home price situation according to the NAR:
The median existing-home price for all housing types in April was $201,700, which is 5.2 percent above April 2013; in the first quarter the median price was 8.6 percent above a year earlier. “Current price data suggests a trend of slower growth, which bodes well for preserving favorable affordability conditions in much of the country,” Yun said.
According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 32% of sales this month.
First-time buyers continue to represent fewer than one-third of all buyers at 29 percent in April, down from 30 percent in March; they were 29 percent in April 2013.
All-cash sales comprised 32 percent of transactions in April, compared with 33 percent in March and 32 percent in April 2013. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 18 percent of homes in April, up from 17 percent in March; they were 19 percent in April 2013. Seven out of 10 investors paid cash in April.
Inventories improved significantly – and are higher than the levels one year ago.
Total housing inventory at the end of April jumped 16.8 percent to 2.29 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.9-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 5.1 months in March. Unsold inventory is 6.5 percent higher than a year ago, when there was a 5.2-month supply.
Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory
Caveats on Use of NAR Existing Home Sales Data
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is a trade organization. Their analysis tends to understate the bad, and overstate the good. However, the raw (and unadjusted) data is released which allows a complete unbiased analysis. Econintersect analyzes only using the raw data. Also note the National Association of Realtors (NAR) new methodology now has moderate back revision to the data – so it is best to look at trends, and not get too excited about each month’s release.
The NAR re-benchmarked their data in their November 2011 existing home sales data release reducing their recent reported home sales volumes by an average of 15%. The NAR stated benchmarking will be an annual process, and the 2010 data will need to be benchmarked again next year.
Also released today were periodic benchmark revisions with downward adjustments to sales and inventory data since 2007, led by a decline in for-sale-by-owners. Although rebenchmarking resulted in lower adjustments to several years of home sales data, the month-to-month characterization of market conditions did not change. There are no changes to home prices or month’s supply.
Existing home sales is one area the government does not report data – and it is easy to assume that an organization whose purpose is to paint the housing industry in a good light would inflate their data. However, Econintersect is assuming in its analysis that the NAR numbers are correct.
The NAR’s home price data has been questioned by others also. However, Econintersectanalysis shows a very good home price correlation to Case-Shiller, CoreLogic’s HPI, and LPS, especially when three-month moving averages are used – as shown in the graph earlier in this article.
Econintersect determines the month-over-month change by subtracting the current month’s year-over-year change from the previous month’s year-over-year change. This is the best of the bad options available to determine month-over-month trends – as the preferred methodology would be to use multi-year data (but the New Normal effects and the Great Recession distort historical data).