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posted on 22 March 2017

February 2017 Headline Existing Home Growth Pace Slows

Written by Steven Hansen

The headlines for existing home sales growth pace declined saying "too few properties for sale and weakening affordability conditions stifled buyers in most of the country". Our analysis of the unadjusted data shows much of January's sharp increase in sales were wiped away with the poor February sales.

Analyst Opinion of Existing Home Sales

This was a poor month for home sales. I believe last month's strong showing was an anomoly as there is no dynamic in play which suggests home sales should be improving.

Econintersect Analysis

  • Unadjusted sales rate of growth decelerated 5.3 % month-over-month, up 0.3 % year-over-year - sales growth rate trend accelerated using the 3 month moving average.
  • Unadjusted price rate of growth accelerated 1.2 % month-over-month, up 5.8 % year-over-year - price growth rate trend accelerated using the 3 month moving average.
  • The homes for sale inventory marginally grew this month, remains historically low for Februarys, and is down 6.4 % from inventory levels one year ago).

NAR reported:

  • Sales down 3.7 % month-over-month, up 5.4 % year-over-year.
  • Prices up 7.7 % year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 5.430 M to 5.690 M (consensus 5.555 million) vs the 5.48 million reported.

The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.

Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings retreated in February as too few properties for sale and weakening affordability conditions stifled buyers in most of the country. "Realtors® are reporting stronger foot traffic from a year ago, but low supply in the affordable price range continues to be the pest that's pushing up price growth and pressuring the budgets of prospective buyers," he said. "Newly listed properties are being snatched up quickly so far this year and leaving behind minimal choices for buyers trying to reach the market."

Added Yun, "A growing share of homeowners in NAR's first quarter HOME survey said now is a good time to sell, but until an increase in listings actually occurs, home prices will continue to move hastily."

"The affordability constraints holding back renters from buying is a signal to many investors that rental demand will remain solid for the foreseeable future," said Yun. "Investors are still making up an above average share of the market right now despite steadily rising home prices and few distressed properties on the market, and their financial wherewithal to pay in cash gives them a leg-up on the competition against first-time buyers."

NAR President William E. Brown says being fully prepared is the right strategy for prospective buyers this spring. "Seek a preapproval from a lender, know what your budget is and begin discussions with a Realtor® early on about your housing wants and needs," he said. "Homes in many areas are selling faster than they were last spring. A buyer's idea of a dream home in a popular neighborhood is probably the same as many others. That's why they'll likely have to decide quickly if they see something they like and can afford."

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.

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 3.6 % year-over-year gain.

Homes today are still relatively affordable according to the NAR's Housing Affordability Index.

Unadjusted Home Affordability Index

First-time buyers were 32 percent of sales in February, which is down from 33 percent in January but up from 30 percent a year ago. NAR's 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellersreleased in late 2016 4 — revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 35 percent.

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 February was $228,400, up 7.7 percent from February 2016 ($212,100). February's price increase was the fastest since last January (8.1 percent) and marks the 60th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

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

First-time buyers were 32 percent of sales in February, which is down from 33 percent in January but up from 30 percent a year ago. NAR's 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellersreleased in late 2016 — revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 35 percent.

All-cash sales were 27 percent of transactions in February (matching the highest since November 2015), up from 23 percent in January and 25 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 17 percent of homes in February, up from 15 percent in January but down from 18 percent a year ago. Seventy-one percent of investors paid in cash in February (matching highest since April 2015).

Unadjusted Inventories are below the levels of one year ago.

Total housing inventory 3 at the end of February increased 4.2 percent to 1.75 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 6.4 percent lower than a year ago (1.87 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 21 straight months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.8-month supply at the current sales pace (3.5 months in January).

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 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.

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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