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Pending Home Sales Data Is Ugly

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The pending home sales index for December 2013 was released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) today, and our analysis suggests that January 2014 existing home sales may be worse than December’s.

  • The current trends (using 3 month rolling averages) continues to show a growing deceleration in pending home sales (as well as actual existing home sales).
  • Extrapolating the unadjusted data to project January 2014 existing home sales, this would be a 10.1% contraction year-over-year existing home sales.
  • Pending home sales are based on contract signings, and existing home sales are based on the execution of the contract (contract closing).
  • After 28 months of year-over-year growth, pending home sales according to the unadjusted data contracted year-over-year for the second month in a row.

The NAR reported December 2013 pending home sales index down 8.7% month-over-month and down 8.8% year-over-year. The market was expecting month-over-month growth of -0.2 % to 0.0%(versus the growth of -8.8% reported). Econintersect‘s evaluation shows the index growth decelerated 1.7% month-over-month and down 6.1% year-over-year.

Unadjusted 3 Month Rolling Average of Year-over-Year Growth for Pending Home Sales (blue line) and Existing Home Sales (red line)

/images/z pending2.png

From Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist:

Several factors are working against buyers. Unusually disruptive weather across large stretches of the country in December forced people indoors and prevented some buyers from looking at homes or making offers. Home prices rising faster than income is also giving pause to some potential buyers, while at the same time a lack of inventory means insufficient choice. Although it could take several months for us to get a clearer read on market momentum, job growth and pent-up demand are positive factors.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) pending home sales index offers a window into predicting existing home sales. The actual home sale might appear in the month the contract was signed (cash buyers account for 27% of home sales in December according to the NAR), or in the following two months.

Econintersect evaluates by offsetting the index one month to project unadjusted existing home sales. Using this index offset one month suggests unadjusted existing home sales of 260,000 in January 2014 (positive 25,000 fudge factor this month for historical error using this methodology for the month of Decembers in years past).

Using Pending Home Sales to Predict Existing Homes Sales – Unadjusted Existing Home Sales (blue line) & Predictive Forecast Using Pending Home Sales Index (red line)

/images/z pending1.PNG

Using this methodology, 370,000 (positive 50,000 fudge factor), existing home unadjusted sales were forecast for December 2013 sales vs the actual reported number of 386,000 (which is subject to further revision).

Unadjusted Year-over-Year Change in Existing Home Sales Volumes (blue line), 3 month rolling average (red line)

/images/z existing1.PNG

As shown on the above graphic, since mid 2011 home sales have been positively growing year-over-year. However, November 2013 home sales data showed a contraction year-over-year – the first time since 2011 – but home sales rebounded slightly in December 2013.

Keeping things real – home sales volumes are only 2/3rds of previous levels.

Caveats on the Use of Pending Home Sales Index

According to the NAR:

NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is released during the first week of each month. It is designed to be a leading indicator of housing activity.

The index measures housing contract activity. It is based on signed real estate contracts for existing single-family homes, condos and co-ops. A signed contract is not counted as a sale until the transaction closes. Modeling for the PHSI looks at the monthly relationship between existing-home sale contracts and transaction closings over the last four years.

…… When a seller accepts a sales contract on a property, it is recorded into a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as a “pending home sale.” The majority of pending home sales become home sale transactions, typically one to two months later.

NAR now collects pending home sales data from MLSs and large brokers. Altogether, we receive data from over 100 MLSs & 60 large brokers, giving us a large sample size covering 50% of the EHS sample. This is equal to 20 percent of all transactions.

In other words, Pending Home Sales is an extrapolation of a sample equal to 20% of the whole. Econintersect uses Pending Home Index to forecast future existing home sales.

Econintersect reset the forecasting of existing home sales using the pending home sales index coincident with November 2011 Pending home sales analysis (see here) – as the NAR in November revised the historical existing home sales data.

The Econintersect forecasting methodology is influenced by the speed at which closings occur. When they slow down in a particular period – this method overestimates. The number of cash buyers are speeding up the process (cash buyers analysis here). A quick cash home sale process could begin and end in the same month. On the other hand, contracts for short sales can sometimes take months to close. Interpreting the pending home sales data is complicated by weighing offsetting effects in the current abnormal market.

Please note that Econintersect uses unadjusted data in its analysis.

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).

Related Articles
Analysis Blog articles on Housing

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