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May 2013 Existing Home Sales Above Average Growth – Home Price Increasing too Rapidly

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The headlines for existing home sales say that sales improved in May. Our analysis shows sales (based on comparing year-over-year growth) is a little above average for the growth evidenced over the last 12 months. This month again looks good analytically.

Econintersect Analysis:

  • Sales up 1.7% month-over-month, Up 15.2% year-over-year – growth rate trend is accelerating
  • Prices up 2.2% month-over-month, Up 11.2% year-over-year
  • The homes for sale inventory grew again this month, and is historically normal for Mays.


NAR reported:

  • Sales up 4.2% month-over-month, Up 12.9% year-over-year
  • Prices up 15.4% year-over-year
  • The market expected annualized sales volumes of 4.95 to 5.00 million (vs the 5.12 million reported)

Overall, this is the 23rd 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 (blue line) – 3 Month Rolling Average (red line)

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The graph below presents unadjusted home sales volumes.

Unadjusted Monthly Home Sales Volumes

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Here are the headline words from the NAR analysts:

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the recovery is strengthening and to expect limited housing supplies for the balance of the year in much of the country.  “The housing numbers are overwhelmingly positive.  However, the number of available homes is unlikely to grow, despite a nice gain in May, unless new home construction ramps up quickly by an additional 50 percent,” he said.  “The home price growth is too fast, and only additional supply from new homebuilding can moderate future price growth.

The graph below does not use seasonally adjusted data in displaying home prices – and is not year-over-year change. There is little question home prices are improving.

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)

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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)

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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 – although this index appears to currently have some seasonality.

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 price for all housing types was $208,000 in May, up 15.4 percent from May 2012.  This marks six straight months of double-digit increases and is the strongest price gain since October 2005, which jumped a record 16.6 percent from a year earlier.  The last time there were 15 consecutive months of year-over-year price increases was from March 2005 to May 2006.

Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 18 percent of May sales, unchanged from April, but matching the lowest share since monthly tracking began in October 2008; they were 25 percent in May 2012.  Fewer distressed homes, which generally sell at a discount, account for some of the price gain.

According to the NAR, all-cash sales accounted for 33% of sales this month.

First-time buyers accounted for 28 percent of purchases in May, compared with 29 percent in April and 34 percent in May 2012.

All-cash sales were at 33 percent of transactions in May, up from 32 percent in April and 28 percent in May 2012.  Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 18 percent of homes in May; they were 19 percent in April and 17 percent in May 2012.

Inventories rose for the third time since July 2012.

Total housing inventory at the end of May rose 3.3 percent to 2.22 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 5.2 months in April.  Listed inventory is 10.1 percent below a year ago, when there was a 6.5-month supply.

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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