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posted on 23 March 2015

February 2015 Existing Home Sales Improved "Modestly" and Remains In a Long Term Improvement Trend

Written by Steven Hansen

The headlines for existing home sales say that sales "increased modestly". Our analysis of the unadjusted data shows the unadjusted three month rolling averages for sales accelerated, remains in positive territory - and has been in a long term improvement trend even though being in contraction most of 2014.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Unadjusted sales growth accelerated 4.3% month-over-month, up 4.3% year-over-year - sales growth rate trend is accelerating using the 3 month moving average.
  • Unadjusted price growth accelerated 1.1% month-over-month, up 5.0% year-over-year - price growth rate trend is modestly improving using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory again was statistically unchanged this month, and is historically low for Februarys (and is also statisitically unchanged from inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales up 1.2% month-over-month, up 4.7% year-over-year.
  • Prices up 7.5% year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.650 to 5.050 million (consensus 4.940) vs the 4.880 million reported.

Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes (blue line) - 3 Month Rolling Average (red line)

z existing1.PNG

The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.

Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes

z existing2.PNG

Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says although February sales showed modest improvement, there's been some stagnation in the market in recent months. "Insufficient supply appears to be hampering prospective buyers in several areas of the country and is hiking prices to near unsuitable levels," he said. "Stronger price growth is a boon for homeowners looking to build additional equity, but it continues to be an obstacle for current buyers looking to close before rates rise."

Adds Yun, "Severe below-freezing winter weather likely had an impact on sales as more moderate activity was observed in the Northeast and Midwest compared to other regions of the country."

"With all indications pointing to a rate increase from the Federal Reserve this year - perhaps as early as this summer - affordability concerns could heighten as home prices and rents both continue to exceed wages," adds Yun.

"Investor sales are trending downward due to the continued rise in prices and fewer bargains available from distressed properties coming onto the market," says NAR President Chris Polychron. "Furthermore, Realtors® in areas popular to foreign buyers, such as South Florida and the West Coast, are reporting tempered demand from international clients - who typically pay in cash - due to the strengthening U.S. dollar compared to foreign currencies."

Comparison of Home Price Indices - Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue line, left axis), CoreLogic (green lin.

z existing3.PNG

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 again 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)

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 4.1% 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 February was $202,600, which is 7.5 percent above February 2014. This marks the 36th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains and the largest since last February (8.8 percent).

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 26% of sales this month.

The percent share of first-time buyers was 29 percent in February, up from 28 percent in January and the first increase since November 2014. First-time buyers represented 28 percent of all buyers in February 2014.

All-cash sales were 26 percent of transactions in February, down from 27 percent in January and down considerably from a year ago (35 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in February, down from 17 percent last month and 21 percent in February 2014. Sixty-seven percent of investors paid cash in February.

Unadjusted Inventories unchanged - and are approximately the same as the levels one year ago.

Total housing inventory [seasonally adjusted] at the end of February increased 1.6 percent to 1.89 million existing homes available for sale, but remains 0.5 percent below a year ago (1.90 million). For the second straight month, unsold inventory is at a 4.6-month supply at the current sales pace.

Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory

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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