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posted on 20 August 2015

July 2015 Existing Home Sales Headlines Say Sales Up. NAR Worries About Declining Affordability.

Written by Steven Hansen

The headlines for existing home sales say "the increase in sales in July solidifies what has been an impressive growth in activity during this year's peak buying season". Our analysis of the unadjusted data shows that home sales were a little soft after last month's strong data - but that the rolling averages did improve. Overall, existing home sales appear to continue in the long term improvement trend channel..

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Unadjusted sales rate of growth decelerated 1.3 % month-over-month, up 11.7% year-over-year - sales growth rate trend improved using the 3 month moving average.
  • Unadjusted price rate of growth decelerated 0.6% month-over-month, up 3.9% year-over-year - price growth rate trend is modestly slowing using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory declined this month, remains historically low for Julys, and is down 4.7% from inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales up 2.0 % month-over-month, up 10.3% year-over-year.
  • Prices up 5.6% year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 5.30 M to 5.60 million (consensus 5.40) vs the 5.59 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 the increase in sales in July solidifies what has been an impressive growth in activity during this year's peak buying season. "The creation of jobs added at a steady clip and the prospect of higher mortgage rates and home prices down the road is encouraging more households to buy now," he said. "As a result, current homeowners are using their increasing housing equity towards the downpayment on their next purchase."

"Despite the strong growth in sales since this spring, declining affordability could begin to slowly dampen demand," adds Yun. "Realtors® in some markets reported slower foot traffic in July in part because of low inventory and concerns about the continued rise in home prices without commensurate income gains."

"The fact that first-time buyers represented a lower share of the market compared to a year ago even though sales are considerably higher is indicative of the challenges many young adults continue to face," adds Yun. "Rising rents and flat wage growth make it difficult for many to save for a downpayment, and the dearth of supply in affordable price ranges is limiting their options."

NAR President Chris Polychron says the housing market is in a much better place and has come a long way since the depths of the recession. "Five years ago, distressed sales represented 33 percent of the market in July," he said. "For many previously distressed homeowners throughout the country, rising home values in recent years have helped recover equity and the vast improvement in several local job markets means fewer are falling behind on their mortgage payments."

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 4.6% 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 July was $234,000, which is 5.6 percent above July 2014. July's price increase marks the 41st consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 23% of sales this month.

The percent share of first-time buyers declined in July for the second consecutive month, falling from 30 percent in June to 28 percent — the lowest share since January of this year (also 28 percent). A year ago, first-time buyers represented 29 percent of all buyers.

All-cash sales increased slightly to 23 percent of transactions in July (22 percent in June) but are down from 29 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 13 percent of homes in July, up from 12 percent in June but down from 16 percent in July 2014. Sixty-four percent of investors paid cash in July.

Unadjusted Inventories are below the levels of one year ago.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of July declined 0.4 percent to 2.24 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 4.7 percent lower than a year ago (2.35 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.9 months in June.

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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