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October 2012 Existing Home Sales Very Strong

Written by Steven Hansen

The headlines for existing home sales say that sales were stronger in October, but this analysis is significantly better than the headlines from the National Association of Realtors.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Sales up 17.0% month-over-month, Up 17.8% year-over-year
  • Prices up 3.4% month-over-month, Up 9.9% year-over-year


NAR reported:

  • Sales Up 2.1% month-over-month, Up 10.9% year-over-year
  • Prices Up 11.1% year-over-year same ( up 11.3% in September 2012)
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.5 to 4.7 million (vs the 4.79 million reported)

Overall, this is the sixteenth month in a row of improving year-over-year home sales volumes (unadjusted data). Since mid 2011, home sales have been positively growing year-over-year. However, the strong rate of growth seen since mid-2010 appears to have moderated as shown on the graph below. However, October was the best year-over-year growth of 2012.

Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes

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The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes – my takeaway is that October’s growth was impressive – but in the scheme of things well below pre-crisis growth.

Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes

/images/z existing2.PNG

Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:

Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist, said there was some impact from Hurricane Sandy. “Home sales continue to trend up and most October transactions were completed by the time the storm hit, but the growing demand with limited inventory is pressuring home prices in much of the country,” he said. “We expect an impact on Northeastern home sales in the coming months from a pause and delays in storm-impacted regions.”

“Rising home prices have already resulted in a $760 billion growth in home equity during the past year,” Yun said. “Given that each percentage point of price appreciation translates into an additional $190 billion in home equity, we could see close to a $1 trillion gain next year.”

NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., said record low mortgage interest rates shouldn’t be taken for granted. “Even with rising home prices, we’ll continue to see favorable housing affordability conditions over the coming year, but they won’t last forever,” he said.

“Inflationary pressures are expected to build during the next two years. As a result, mortgage interest rates will also rise with inflation. Buyers who are currently held back by tight mortgage credit standards should work to improve their credit scores so they’ll be able to qualify for a mortgage while conditions are still favorable.”

With stringent mortgage underwriting standards, Thomas said it’s very important to understand credit issues and how credit scores work.

The graph below does not use seasonally adjusted data in displaying home prices. As the first reporter of home prices. The graph below is not year-over-year change, and the down-tick in home prices is seasonal.

Comparison of Home Price Indices – Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue line, left axis), CoreLogic (green line, left axis) and National Association of Realtors three month average (red line, right axis)

/images/z existing3.PNG

To remove the seasonality in home prices, here is a year-over-year graph which demonstrates a continuing strengthening in home prices.

Comparison of Home Price Indices – Case-Shiller 3 Month Average (blue bars), CoreLogic (yellow bars) and National Association of Realtors three month average (red bars)

/images/z existing5.PNG

Econintersect will do a more complete analysis of home prices when the Case-Shiller data is released. Please note that Econintersect analysis shows home prices up 9.9% year-over-year in October using NAR year-over-year unadjusted data. The graphs above on prices use a three month rolling average of the NAR data, and show a 7.5% gain.

Even so, homes today are more 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 national median existing-home price2 for all housing types was $178,600 in October, which is 11.1 percent above a year ago. This marks eight consecutive monthly year-over-year increases, which last occurred from October 2005 to May 2006.

Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts – accounted for 24 percent of October sales (12 percent were foreclosures and 12 percent were short sales), unchanged from September; they were 28 percent in October 2011. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 20 percent below market value in October, while short sales were discounted 14 percent.

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 29% of sales this month.

First-time buyers accounted for 31 percent of purchases in October, compared with 32 percent in September and 34 percent in October 2011.

All-cash sales were at 29 percent of transactions in October, up slightly from 28 percent in September; they were 29 percent in October 2011. Investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 20 percent of homes in October, up from 18 percent in September; they were 18 percent in October 2011.

Inventories are on a flat trend line in 2012.

Total housing inventory at the end of October fell 1.4 percent to 2.14 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.4-month supply  at the current sales pace, down from 5.6 months in September, and is the lowest housing supply since February of 2006 when it was 5.2 months. Listed inventory is 21.9 percent below a year ago when there was a 7.6-month supply.

The median time on market was 71 days in October, little changed from 70 days in September, but down 26.0 percent from 96 days in October 2011. Thirty-two percent of homes sold in October were on the market for less than a month, while 20 percent were on the market for six months or longer.

Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory

/images/z existing4.png

Although Econintersect sees a likely housing bottom, October sales more than made up for a very weak September.

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, Econintersect analysis 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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