September 2014 Existing Home Sales Improve But Only Reflect Bad Economic Dynamics

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The headlines for existing home sales say that sales demand has improved - but still shows year-over-year growth as contracting. Our analysis is more positive - with sales growth improving month-over-month AND is up year-over-year. The unadjusted three month rolling averages for sales are negative but accelerating. When one expects little this is a good report.

Follow up:


Econintersect Analysis:

  • Sales growth accelerated 9.4% month-over-month, up 1.9% year-over-year – sales growth rate trend is accelerating (but negative) using the 3 month moving average.
  • Prices growth accelerated 0.9% month-over-month, up 3.7% year-over-year – price growth rate trend is statistically unchanged using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory declined marginally this month, but is historically low for Septembers (but higher than inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales up 2,4% month-over-month, down 1.7% year-over-year.
  • Prices up 5,6% year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 5.00 to 5.20 million (consensus 5.10) vs the 5.17 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)

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The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.

Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes

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Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the improved demand for buying seen since the spring has carried into the fall. “Low interest rates and price gains holding steady led to September’s healthy increase, even with investor activity remaining on par with last month’s marked decline,” he said. “Traditional buyers are entering a less competitive market with fewer investors searching for available homes, but may also face a slight decline in choices due to the fact that inventory generally falls heading into the winter.”

“Economic instability overseas is leading to volatility in the stock market and is causing investors to seek safer bets, which will likely keep interest rates in upcoming weeks hovering near or below where they are now,” said Yun. “This is welcoming news for consumers looking to buy, although they could temporarily become more cautious by less certain economic conditions.

According to NAR President Steve Brown, fewer distressed sales is good news for appraisers, who have faced undue pressure since the downturn. “An appraisal is an important part of the home buying and selling process,” he said. “With foreclosures and short sales falling closer to average levels, appraisers will have fewer distressed sales in their list of comparables when determining home valuations.”

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)

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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 - although this month home prices improved.

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)

/images/z existing5.PNG

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 3.3% 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 September was $209,700, which is 5.6 percent above September 2013. This marks the 31st consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 24% of sales this month.

The percent share of first-time buyers continues to underperform historically, remaining at 29 percent for the third consecutive month. First-time buyers have represented less than 30 percent of all buyers in 17 of the past 18 months.

All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in September, up slightly from August (23 percent) but down from 33 percent in September of last year. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in September, up from 12 percent last month but below September 2013 (19 percent). Sixty-three percent of investors paid cash in September.

Inventories declined – but are higher than the levels one year ago.

Total housing inventory at the end of September fell 1.3 percent to 2.30 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.3-month supply at the current sales pace. Despite fewer homes for sale in September, unsold inventory is still 6.0 percent higher than a year ago, when there were 2.17 million existing homes available for sale.

Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory

/images/z existing4.png

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).

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