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posted on 22 December 2015

November 2015 Existing Home Sales Headlines Say Sales Again Declined. Sales Now Contracting Year-over-Year.

Written by Steven Hansen

The headlines for existing home sales say "existing-home sales dropped off considerably in November to the slowest pace in 19 months, but some of the decrease was likely because of an apparent rise in closing timeframes that may have pushed some transactions into December". Our analysis of the unadjusted data shows that home sales declined.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Unadjusted sales rate of growth decelerated 0.2 % month-over-month, unchanged 0.0 % year-over-year - sales growth rate trend declined using the 3 month moving average.
  • Unadjusted price rate of growth decelerated 0.5 % month-over-month, up 4.0 % year-over-year - price growth rate trend is modestly improved using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory declined again this month, remains historically low for Novembers, and is down 1.9 % from inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales down 10.5 % month-over-month, down 3.8 % year-over-year.
  • Prices up 6.3 % year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 5.100 to 5.500 million (consensus 5.32 million) vs the 4.76 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 multiple factors led to November's sales decline, but the primary reason could be an anomaly as the industry adjusts to the new Know Before You Owe rule. "Sparse inventory and affordability issues continue to impede a large pool of buyers' ability to buy, which is holding back sales," he said. "However, signed contracts have remained mostly steady in recent months, and properties sold faster in November. Therefore it's highly possible the stark sales decline wasn't because of sudden, withering demand."

According to Yun, although Realtors® are adjusting accordingly to the Know Before You Owe initiative, the main takeaway so far has been the need for longer closing times. According to NAR's Realtors® Confidence Index, 47 percent of respondents in November reported that they are experiencing a longer time to close compared to a year ago, up from 37 percent in October.

"It's possible the longer timeframes pushed a latter portion of would-be November transactions into December," says Yun. "As long as closing timeframes don't rise even further, it's likely more sales will register to this month's total, and November's large dip will be more of an outlier."

"Realtors® worked hard to prepare for Know Before You Owe, and we knew there would be some near-term challenges as the industry continues to adapt," says NAR President Tom Salomone. "Nonetheless, an early trend of longer lead times to closings is cause for concern. As Realtors® report issues with their transactions, we will continue to work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to ensure as little disruption as possible to the business of real estate."

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 3.4 % year-over-year gain.

Homes today are still relatively 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 November was $220,300, which is 6.3 percent above November 2014 ($207,200). November's price increase marks the 45th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

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

The percent share of first-time buyers was at 30 percent in November, down from 31 percent both in October and a year ago. Despite first-time buyers' continued absence from the market, NAR's inaugural quarterly Housing Opportunities and Market Experience survey —released earlier this month — found that an overwhelming majority of current renters who are 34 years of age or younger want to own a home in the future (94 percent). The top reason given by renters for not currently owning was the inability to afford to buy.

Matching the highest share since January, all-cash sales rose to 27 percent of transactions in November (24 percent in October) and are also up from 25 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 16 percent of homes in November (also the highest since January), up both from 13 percent in October and 15 percent a year ago. Sixty-four percent of investors paid cash in November.

Unadjusted Inventories are below the levels of one year ago.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of November decreased 3.3 percent to 2.04 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 1.9 percent lower than a year ago (2.08 million). Unsold inventory is at a 5.1-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.8 months in October.

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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