March 2014 Existing Home Sales Again Are Far from Good
Written by Steven Hansen
The headlines for existing home sales say that sales growth fell marginally in March month-over-month - and declined year-over-year. Our analysis shows a larger deterioration. The three month rolling averages are continuing to decline.
- Sales growth decelerated 1.3% month-over-month, down 8.5% year-over-year – sales growth rate trend is decelerating using the 3 month moving average.
- Prices growth decelerated 1.3% month-over-month, Up 5.9% year-over-year – price growth rate trend is decelerating marginally using the 3 month moving average.
- The homes for sale inventory grew marginally this month, but is historically low for Marchs (but higher than inventory levels one year ago).
- Sales down 0.2% month-over-month, down 7.5% year-over-year.
- Prices up 7.9% year-over-year
- The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.45 to 4.90 million (consensus 4.56) vs the 4.59 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 deterioration.
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, said that current sales activity is underperforming by historical standards. “There really should be stronger levels of home sales given our population growth,” he said. “In contrast, price growth is rising faster than historical norms because of inventory shortages.” Yun expects some improvement in the months ahead. “With ongoing job creation and some weather delayed shopping activity, home sales should pick up, especially if inventory continues to improve and mortgage interest rates rise only modestly.”
NAR President Steve Brown said first-time buyers have been stuck in a rut. “There are indications that the stringent mortgage underwriting standards are beginning to ease a bit, particularly regarding credit score requirements, but they remain a headwind for entry-level and single-income home buyers. We also have tight inventory in the lower price ranges where many starter homes are found, but rising new-home construction means some owners will be trading up and more existing homes will be added to the inventory. Hopefully, this will create more opportunities 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 plateau 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 7.6% year-over-year gain.
Even so, 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 March was $198,500, up 7.9 percent from March 2013. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 14 percent of March sales, down from 16 percent in February and 21 percent in March 2013.
According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 33% of sales this month.
First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in March, up from 28 percent in February; they were 30 percent in March 2013.
All-cash sales comprised 33 percent of transactions in March, compared with 35 percent in February and 30 percent in March 2013. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 17 percent of homes in March, down from 21 percent in February and 19 percent in March 2013. Seventy-one percent of investors paid cash in March.
Inventories improved marginally – and are higher than the levels one year ago.
Total housing inventory at the end of March rose 4.7 percent to 1.99 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 5.0 months in February. Unsold inventory is 3.1 percent above a year ago, when there was a 4.7-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).