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posted on 29 September 2016

August 2016 Pending Home Sales Index Declines?

Written by Steven Hansen

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) seasonally adjusted pending home sales index declined. Our analysis is the opposite. The quote of the day from this NAR release:

... Evidence is piling up that without more new home construction the current housing recovery could stall ...

Analyst Opinion of Pending Home Sales

I do not understand how the unadjusted numbers are expanding year-over-year, whilst the adjusted numbers are contracting year-over-year. I know of no other index used today where this is ever true. Many agencies use the unadjusted numbers to provide year-over-year growth. Even though I view the minutiae of the data differently, I agree with the NAR's bottom line. There is not enough inventory - and this is slowing sales volumes all whilst creating a price bubble. In addition, we are projecting relatively poor September home sales. So in the end there is really total agreement with the NAR's analysis even though we came there on different paths.

Pending home sales are based on contract signings, and existing home sales are based on the execution of the contract (contract closing).

The NAR reported:

  • Pending home sales index was down 2.4 % month-over-month and down 0.2 % year-over-year.
  • The market was expecting month-over-month growth of -0.9 % to 1.3 % (consensus +0.5 %) versus the growth of -2.4 % reported.

Econintersect's evaluation using unadjusted data:

  • the index growth rate was up 6.2 % month-over-month and up 4.0 % year-over-year.
  • The current trends (using 3 month rolling averages) are slightly accelerating and has returned to expansion.
  • Extrapolating the pending home sales unadjusted data to project September 2016 existing home sales would be a 1.1 % contraction year-over-year for existing home sales.

Unadjusted 3 Month Rolling Average of Year-over-Year Growth for Pending Home Sales (blue line) and Existing Home Sales (red line)

z pending2.png

From Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist:

.... suffering supply levels have taken the wind out of the momentum the housing market experienced earlier this year. Contract activity slackened throughout the country in August except for in the Northeast, where higher inventory totals are giving home shoppers greater options and better success signing a contract. In most other areas, an increased number of prospective buyers appear to be either wavering at the steeper home prices pushed up by inventory shortages or disheartened by the competition for the miniscule number of affordable listings.

Evidence is piling up that without more new home construction the current housing recovery could stall. Housing inventory has declined year-over-year for 15 straight months; properties in August typically sold 11 days quicker than in August 20151 and after increasing 5.1 percent last month, existing-home prices have risen year-over-year for 54 consecutive months.

There will be an expected seasonal decline in new listings in coming months, which could accelerate price appreciation and make finding an affordable home even more of a struggle for would-be buyers.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) pending home sales index offers a window into predicting existing home sales. The actual home sale might appear in the month the contract was signed (cash buyers can close quickly), or in the following two months.

Econintersect forecasts unadjusted existing home sales by offsetting the pending home sales index one month. This forecast suggests unadjusted existing home sales of 465,000 in September 2016.

Using Pending Home Sales to Predict Existing Homes Sales - Unadjusted Existing Home Sales (blue line) & Predictive Forecast Using Pending Home Sales Index (red line)

z pending1.PNG

Using this methodology, 505,000 existing home unadjusted sales were forecast for August 2016 versus the actual reported number of 541,000 (which is subject to further revision).

Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes (blue line), 3 month rolling average (red line)

z existing1.PNG

Keeping things real - home sales volumes are only 2/3rds of previous levels.

Caveats on the Use of Pending Home Sales Index

According to the NAR:

NAR's Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is released during the first week of each month. It is designed to be a leading indicator of housing activity.

The index measures housing contract activity. It is based on signed real estate contracts for existing single-family homes, condos and co-ops. A signed contract is not counted as a sale until the transaction closes. Modeling for the PHSI looks at the monthly relationship between existing-home sale contracts and transaction closings over the last four years.

…… When a seller accepts a sales contract on a property, it is recorded into a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as a "pending home sale." The majority of pending home sales become home sale transactions, typically one to two months later.

NAR now collects pending home sales data from MLSs and large brokers. Altogether, we receive data from over 100 MLSs & 60 large brokers, giving us a large sample size covering 50% of the EHS sample. This is equal to 20 percent of all transactions.

In other words, Pending Home Sales is an extrapolation of a sample equal to 20% of the whole. Econintersect uses Pending Home Index to forecast future existing home sales.

Econintersect reset the forecasting of existing home sales using the pending home sales index coincident with November 2011 Pending home sales analysis (see here) - as the NAR in November revised the historical existing home sales data.

The Econintersect forecasting methodology is influenced by the speed at which closings occur. When they slow down in a particular period - this method overestimates. The number of cash buyers are speeding up the process (cash buyers analysis here). A quick cash home sale process could begin and end in the same month. On the other hand, contracts for short sales can sometimes take months to close. Interpreting the pending home sales data is complicated by weighing offsetting effects in the current abnormal market.

Please note that Econintersect uses unadjusted data in its analysis.

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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