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November 2012 Existing Home Sales Remain Strong

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The headlines for existing home sales say that sales were stronger in November, but our analysis shows sales a little weaker – but have been relatively strong for the last 2 months.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Sales down 1.4% month-over-month, Up 15.5% year-over-year
  • Prices unchanged month-over-month, Up 9.1% year-over-year


NAR reported:

  • Sales Up 5.9% month-over-month, Up 14.5% year-over-year
  • Prices Up 10.1% year-over-year same ( up 11.1% in October 2012)
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.9 million (vs the 5.0 million reported)

Overall, this is the seventeenth 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, November 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 November’s growth was impressive – but just not as good as Octobers.

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 is healthy market demand. “Momentum continues to build in the housing market from growing jobs and a bursting out of household formation,” he said. “With lower rental vacancy rates and rising rents, combined with still historically favorable affordability conditions, more people are buying homes. Areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy show storm-related disruptions but overall activity in the Northeast is up, offset by gains in unaffected areas.”

NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., said there’s been speculation of a rise in short sales before the end of the year with pending expiration of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. “However, there’s been no movement in short sales, their market share is staying in a narrow range, and they’re still taking much longer to sell – typically three months,” he said.

“The fact remains it is extremely difficult to expedite a short sale, and banks’ response to client urgency is only starting to improve. However, we’re hopeful that the act will be extended before it expires on December 31 so sellers don’t have to pay taxes on forgiven mortgage debt, which would be unfairly treated as income for owners who are selling under duress,” Thomas said.

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 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)

/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 9.1% year-over-year in November using NAR year-over-year unadjusted data. The graphs above on prices use a three month rolling average of the NAR data, and show an 8.2% 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 $180,600 in November, up 10.1 percent from November 2011. This is the ninth consecutive monthly year-over-year price gain, which last occurred from September 2005 to May 2006.

Distressed homes3 – foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts – accounted for 22 percent of November sales (12 percent were foreclosures and 10 percent were short sales), down from 24 percent in October and 29 percent in November 2011. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 20 percent below market value in November, while short sales were discounted 16 percent.

“The market share of distressed property sales will fall into the teens next year based on a diminishing number of seriously delinquent mortgages,” Yun said.

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 30% of sales this month.

First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in November, down from 31 percent in October and 35 percent in November 2011.

All-cash sales were at 30 percent of transactions in November, up slightly from 29 percent in October and 28 percent in November 2011. Investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 19 percent of homes in November, little changed from 20 percent in October; they were 19 percent in November 2011.

Inventories are on a flat trend line in 2012.

Total housing inventory at the end of November fell 3.8 percent to 2.03 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace; it was 5.3 months in October, and is the lowest housing supply since September of 2005 when it was 4.6 months.

The median time on market for all homes was 70 days in November, slightly below 71 days in October, but is 28.6 percent below 98 days in November 2011. Thirty-two percent of homes sold in November were on the market for less than a month, while 20 percent were on the market for six months or longer; these findings are unchanged from October.

Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory

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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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