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posted on 22 June 2016

May 2016 Existing Home Sales Were At the Highest Pace in Over Nine Years

Written by Steven Hansen

The headlines for existing home sales say "the increase in sales is more homeowners realizing the equity they've accumulated in recent years and finally deciding to trade-up or downsize". Our analysis of the unadjusted data shows that home sales improved relative to last month, but the rolling averages were unchanged. Sales price rate of growth slowed.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Unadjusted sales rate of growth accelerated 0.9 % month-over-month, up 6.3 % year-over-year - sales growth rate trend was statisically unchanged using the 3 month moving average.
  • Unadjusted price rate of growth decelerated 0.5 % month-over-month, up 3.2 % year-over-year - price growth rate trend declined using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory grew this month, but remains historically low for Mays, and is down 5.7 % from inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales up 1.8 % month-over-month, up 4.5 % year-over-year.
  • Prices up 4.7 % year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 5.350 to 5.680 million (consensus 5.570 million) vs the 5.53 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 existing sales continue to hum along, rising in May for the third consecutive month. "This spring's sustained period of ultra-low mortgage rates has certainly been a worthy incentive to buy a home, but the primary driver in the increase in sales is more homeowners realizing the equity they've accumulated in recent years and finally deciding to trade-up or downsize," he said. "With first-time buyers still struggling to enter the market, repeat buyers using the proceeds from the sale of their previous home as their down payment are making up the bulk of home purchases right now."

Adds Yun, "Barring further deceleration in job growth that could ultimately temper demand from these repeat buyers, sales have the potential to mostly maintain their current pace through the summer."

."Existing inventory remains subdued throughout much of the country and continues to lag even last year's deficient amount," adds Yun. "While new home construction has thankfully crept higher so far this year, there's still a glaring need for even more, to help alleviate the supply pressures that are severely limiting choices and pushing prices out of reach for plenty of prospective first-time buyers."

"At a time of historically low interest rates, responsible student loan borrowers should have the opportunity to refinance their loans from their current rates, which can oftentimes run over double-digit percentage points," said NAR President Tom Salomone. "In addition to policy proposals that streamline income-based repayment programs and allow student loan borrowers the ability to refinance into lower rates, NAR supports those that promote student loan simplification, clarity and education. Furthermore, it's important that mortgage underwriting guidelines related to student loan debt are standardized and do not impair homeownership opportunities."

Comparison of Home Price Indices - Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue line, left axis), CoreLogic (green line, left axis), NAR 3 month rolling average (red line,right axis)

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-2012.

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 does a more complete analysis of home prices with the Case-Shiller analysis. 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:

Surpassing the peak median sales price set last June ($236,300), the median existing-home price2 for all housing types in May was $239,700, up 4.7 percent from May 2015 ($228,900). May's price increase marks the 51st consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 22 % of sales this month.

The share of first-time buyers was 30 percent in May, down from 32 percent both in April and a year ago. First-time buyers in all of 2015 also represented an average of 30 percent.

All-cash sales were 22 percent of transactions in May, down from both 24 percent in April and a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 13 percent of homes in May, unchanged from April and down from 14 percent a year ago. Sixty-three percent of investors paid cash in May.

Unadjusted Inventories are below the levels of one year ago.

Total housing inventory at the end of May rose 1.4 percent to 2.15 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 5.7 percent lower than a year ago (2.28 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.7-month supply at the current sales pace, which is unchanged from April.

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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