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posted on 21 May 2015

April 2015 Existing Home Sales Headlines Say Sales Down. We Believe Sales Continue to Trend Upward.

Written by Steven Hansen

The headlines for existing home sales claim "April failed to keep pace with the robust gain seen in March". Our analysis of the unadjusted data shows that home sales are normally uneven - and that the rolling averages did improve. Because of the noise, it is very difficult for the headline seasonal adjusted data to accurately present the situation. Overall, existing home sales are improving and in a upward trending channel.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Unadjusted sales growth decelerated 0.8% month-over-month, up 5.5% year-over-year - sales growth rate trend is accelerating using the 3 month moving average.
  • Unadjusted price growth accelerated 0.8% month-over-month, up 5.5% year-over-year - price growth rate trend is modestly improving using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory declined this month, remains historically low for Aprils, and is down 0.9% from inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales down 3.3% month-over-month, up 6.1% year-over-year.
  • Prices up 8.9% year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 5.10 to 5.32 million (consensus 5.22) vs the 5.040 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 sales in April failed to keep pace with the robust gain seen in March. "April's setback is the result of lagging supply relative to demand and the upward pressure it's putting on prices," he said. "However, the overall data and feedback we're hearing from Realtors® continues to point to elevated levels of buying interest compared to a year ago. With low interest rates and job growth, more buyers will be encouraged to enter the market unless prices accelerate even higher in relation to incomes."

"Housing inventory declined from last year and supply in many markets is very tight, which in turn is leading to bidding wars, faster price growth and properties selling at a quicker pace," says Yun. "To put it in perspective, roughly 40 percent of properties sold last month went at or above asking price, the highest since NAR began tracking this monthly data in December 2012."

NAR President Chris Polychron says there needs to be additional choices for borrowers looking for safe and secure mortgage products to finance their home purchase. Realtors® urge the U.S. Senate to schedule a vote for the bipartisan Mortgage Choice Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week. This legislation levels the playing field for brokerages with affiliated business agreements by eliminating the 3 percent cap on the calculations of fees and points in the Dodd-Frank Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage rule.

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 improvement in home price rate of growth since mid-2013.

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 6.3% 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 April was $219,400, which is 8.9 percent above April 2014. This marks the 38th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains and is the largest since January 2014 (10.1 percent).

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

The percent share of first-time buyers remained at 3 percent in April for the second consecutive month. First-time buyers represented 29 percent of all buyers in April 2014.

All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in April, unchanged from March and down considerably from a year ago (32 percent). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14 percent of homes in April, unchanged from last month and down from 18 percent in April 2014. Seventy-one percent of investors paid cash in April.

Unadjusted Inventories are moderately below the levels of one year ago.

Total housing inventory at the end of April increased 10.0 percent to 2.21 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 0.9 percent below a year ago (2.23 million). Unsold inventory is at a 5.3-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.6 months in March.

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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