March Pending Home Sales Slip as Sales in Northeast, West Falter

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) Monday morning released its data on pending sales of existing homes for the month of March. The pending home sales index rose from a downwardly revised February reading of 107.2 to 107.6. The March index is down 3% compared with March 2017.

February sales rose in two of four NAR geographical regions.

The consensus estimate called for a month-over-month increase of 1% in pending sales. The index reflects signed contracts, not sales closings. An index reading of 100 equals the average level of contract signings during 2001.

The index has been above 100 (the “average” reading) for 41 straight months.

The NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, noted:

Healthy economic conditions are creating considerable demand for purchasing a home, but not all buyers are able to sign contracts because of the lack of choices in inventory. Steady price growth and the swift pace listings are coming off the market are proof that more supply is needed to fully satisfy demand. What continues to hold back sales is the fact that prospective buyers are increasingly having difficulty finding an affordable home to buy.

Yun continued:

Much of the country is enjoying a thriving job market, but buying a home is becoming more expensive. That is why it is an absolute necessity for there to be a large increase in new and existing homes available for sale in coming months to moderate home price growth. Otherwise, sales will remain stuck in this holding pattern and a growing share of would-be buyers — especially first-time buyers — will be left on the sidelines.

By region, March pending home sales fell by 5.6 percentage points to an index score of 90.6 in the Northeast, down 8.1 points compared with March 2017. In the West, sales dipped 1.1 points to an index score of 94.7, down 2.2 points compared to last year’s index.

Sales rose 2.4 points in the Midwest to an index score of 101.3, but it remains down 6.0 points year over year for the month. Sales in the South rose 2.5 points to 128.6 in March and are now 0.3 points above the year-ago index score.

Existing-home sales closed 2017 at around 5.51 million. Yun expects 2018 sales of around 5.61 million, up from a prior estimate of 5.5 million. The national median existing-home price in 2017 rose by 5.8%. In 2016, existing sales increased 3.8% and prices rose 5.1%. The NAR now estimates that 2018 price growth would moderate to around 4.4% for the year.