October 2014 Pending Home Sales Index Declines But Continues to Show Improving Home Sales

November 27th, 2014
in aa syndication, home sales and home prices

Written by

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) seasonally adjusted pending home sales index declined marginally - but remains in expansion for the second month after a year in contraction. Our analysis of pending home sales however suggests that November 2014 existing home sales will be better than October's.

Follow up:


Pending home sales are based on contract signings, and existing home sales are based on the execution of the contract (contract closing).

The NAR reported:

  • Pending home sales index was down 1.1% month-over-month and up 2.2% year-over-year.
  • The market was expecting month-over-month growth of -1.0% to 2.0% (consensus 0.6%) versus the growth of 2.2% reported.

Econintersect‘s evaluation of the unadjusted data shows:

  • the index growth decelerated 1.1% month-over-month and up 2.2% year-over-year.
  • The current trends (using 3 month rolling averages) improved - and are now in expansion.
  • Extrapolating the unadjusted data to project November 2014 existing home sales, this would be a 5.6% expansion year-over-year for existing home sales. 
  • After 28 months of year-over-year growth followed by 11 months of contraction, pending home sales according to the unadjusted data has finally moved into expansion territory for the last two months.

Unadjusted 3 Month Rolling Average of Year-over-Year Growth for Pending Home Sales (blue line) and Existing Home Sales (red line)

/images/z pending2.png

From Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist:

.... despite October's modest decline, contract signings have remained at a healthy pace now for six straight months. In addition to low interest rates, buyers entering the market this autumn are being lured by the increase in homes for sale and less competition from investors paying in cash. Demand is holding steady but would be more robust if it weren't for lagging wage growth and tight credit conditions that continue to hamper those individuals looking for relief from rising rents.

.... evidence of rising home prices allowing more willing homeowners the ability to sell can be found in NAR's annual survey released earlier this month, which revealed that the typical seller over the past year was in their home for 10 years before selling—an all-time survey high for tenure of home.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) pending home sales index offers a window into predicting existing home sales. The actual home sale might appear in the month the contract was signed (cash buyers can close quickly), or in the following two months.

Econintersect forecasts unadjusted existing home sales by offsetting the pending home sales index one month. This forecast suggests unadjusted existing home sales of 380,000 in November 2014 (a negative 15,000 fudge factor this month for historical error using this methodology for the month of Novembers in years past).

Using Pending Home Sales to Predict Existing Homes Sales – Unadjusted Existing Home Sales (blue line) & Predictive Forecast Using Pending Home Sales Index (red line)

/images/z pending1.PNG

Using this methodology, 415,000 existing home unadjusted sales were forecast for October 2014 (with a negative 35,000 fudge factor) versus the actual reported number of 444,000 (which is subject to further revision).

Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes (blue line), 3 month rolling average (red line)

/images/z existing1.PNG

As shown on the above graphic, since mid 2011 home sales have been positively growing year-over-year. However, Since November 2013 home sales showed a contraction year-over-year for the first time since 2011 - and October 2014 was the first month of expansion.

Keeping things real – home sales volumes are only 2/3rds of previous levels.

Caveats on the Use of Pending Home Sales Index

According to the NAR:

NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is released during the first week of each month. It is designed to be a leading indicator of housing activity.

The index measures housing contract activity. It is based on signed real estate contracts for existing single-family homes, condos and co-ops. A signed contract is not counted as a sale until the transaction closes. Modeling for the PHSI looks at the monthly relationship between existing-home sale contracts and transaction closings over the last four years.

…… When a seller accepts a sales contract on a property, it is recorded into a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as a “pending home sale.” The majority of pending home sales become home sale transactions, typically one to two months later.

NAR now collects pending home sales data from MLSs and large brokers. Altogether, we receive data from over 100 MLSs & 60 large brokers, giving us a large sample size covering 50% of the EHS sample. This is equal to 20 percent of all transactions.

In other words, Pending Home Sales is an extrapolation of a sample equal to 20% of the whole. Econintersect uses Pending Home Index to forecast future existing home sales.

Econintersect reset the forecasting of existing home sales using the pending home sales index coincident with November 2011 Pending home sales analysis (see here) – as the NAR in November revised the historical existing home sales data.

The Econintersect forecasting methodology is influenced by the speed at which closings occur. When they slow down in a particular period – this method overestimates. The number of cash buyers are speeding up the process (cash buyers analysis here). A quick cash home sale process could begin and end in the same month. On the other hand, contracts for short sales can sometimes take months to close. Interpreting the pending home sales data is complicated by weighing offsetting effects in the current abnormal market.

Please note that Econintersect uses unadjusted data in its analysis.

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).

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