Written by Steven Hansen
The headlines for existing home sales say that sales slipped in March caused by a shortage of homes for sale. Our analysis shows sales are about average for the growth evidenced over the last 12 months. The real problem is that most are expecting an acceleration in home sales, and what is being evidenced is flat-line growth. This month looks good analytically because last month was bad.
- Sales up 1.3% month-over-month, Up 6.3% year-over-year
- Prices up 0.3% month-over-month, Up 9.9% year-over-year
- The reason prices and sales were up this month is a downward revision in the data for the previous months.
- The homes for sale inventory improved this month, but seems smaller than historical growth for Marchs.
- Sales down 0.6% month-over-month, Up 10.3% year-over-year
- Prices up 11.8% year-over-year (up 11.6% originally reported the previous month)
- The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.90 to 5.01 million (vs the 4.92 million reported)
Overall, this is the 21st 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 from mid-2010 to the beginning of 2012 appears to have flat-lined as shown on the graph below.
Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes
The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.
Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes
Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:
Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist, said there is more demand than supply in the current market. “Buyer traffic is 25 percent above a year ago when we were already seeing notable gains in shopping activity,” he said. “In the same timeframe housing inventories have trended much lower, which is continuing to pressure home prices. The good news is home construction is rising and low mortgage rates are continuing to keep affordability conditions at historically favorable levels. The bad news is that underwriting standards remain excessively tight, while renters are getting squeezed by higher rents.”
NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., said homes are selling much faster. “The typical home sold in March was on the market for one month less than it took to sell a year ago,” he said. “Multiple bidding is becoming more common, and more homes are selling above the asking price, so buyers need to move quickly and follow their Realtor®’s advice for contingencies when making contract offers.”
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 relative change this month in home prices is seasonal – but the tick up in December 2012 was unusual.
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)
To remove the seasonality in home prices, here is a year-over-year graph which demonstrates a continuing strengthening in home prices – however, it appears the rate of growth is slowing.
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)
Econintersect will do a more complete analysis of home prices when the Case-Shiller data is released. The graphs above on prices use a three month rolling average of the NAR data, and show an 9.6% year-over-year 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 price3 for all housing types was $184,300 in March, which is 11.8 percent higher than March 2012. The March increase is the strongest since November 2005 when it rose 12.9 percent from a year earlier, and the last time there were 13 consecutive months of year-over-year price increases was from May 2005 to May 2006.
Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 21 percent of March sales, down from 25 percent in February and 29 percent in March 2012. Thirteen percent of March sales were foreclosures, and 8 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15 percent below market value in March, while short sales were discounted 13 percent.
According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 30% of sales this month.
First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in March, unchanged from February; they were 33 percent in March 2012.
All-cash sales were at 30 percent of transactions in March, down from 32 percent in February; they were 32 percent in March 2012. Individual investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 19 percent of homes in March, down from 22 percent in February; they were 21 percent in March 2012.
Inventories rose for the second time since July 2012.
Total housing inventory at the end of March increased 1.6 percent to 1.93 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.7-month supply 2 at the current sales pace, up from 4.6 months in February. Listed inventory remains 16.8 percent below a year ago when there was a 6.2-month supply.
“The inventory improvement last month results from a seasonal gain, but conditions continue to broadly favor sellers. We need a housing supply of over 6 months to have a generally balanced market between home buyers and sellers, but it’s unlikely we’ll get there without greater increases in housing construction,” Yun said.
Unadjusted Total Housing Inventory
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).