February Pending Home Sales Remain Sluggish

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) Thursday morning released its data on pending sales of existing homes for the month of February. The pending home sales index dropped by 1% from a January reading of 102.9 to a February reading of 101.9. The index has declined for 14 consecutive months with February’s reading down 4.9% from last year.

Existing-home sales closed 2018 at around 5.34 million, down 3.1% compared to 2017. NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun expects existing-home sales to decline by 0.7% in 2019 to 5.30 million. That’s a small improvement from last month’s estimate for a dip of 1.1% to 5.34 million sales.

The national median existing-home price rose 4.9% in 2018 and Yun is now forecasting home price appreciation to rise by around 2.2% in 2019.

In 2017 prices rose 5.7% and sales of existing homes increased by 1.1%. In 2016, sales of existing homes increased by 3.8% and prices rose 5.1%.

The consensus estimate called for pending sales to be down 0.8% month over month. The index reflects signed contracts, not sales closings. An index reading of 100 equals the average level of contract signings during 2001.

Yun noted:

In January, pending contracts were up close to 5 percent, so this month’s 1 percent drop is not a significant concern. As a whole, these numbers indicate that a cyclical low in sales is in the past but activity is not matching the frenzied pace of last spring.

Yun also suggested that the Federal Reserve will lower interest rates either this year or next. Such a move would “stimulate the economy and the housing market.” The NAR forecasts, however, are based on no change in the Fed interest rate.

The February pending-sales index declined in two of four NAR geographical regions. Pending home sales dipped to an index score of 92.1 in the Northeast, down by 0.8 points compared with January and down 2.6% year over year. In the Midwest, sales plunged by 7.2 points to an index score of 93.2, down 6.1% compared to last year’s index.

Sales inched up 1.7 points in the South to an index score of 121.8, and down 2.9% year over year for the month. Sales in the West increased by 0.5 points to 87.5 in February and are now down 9.6% compared with the year-ago index score.

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