Housing Beginning to Bloom

The Mortgage Corner

Ultra-low interest rates are finally beginning to pay off.  The housing season is beginning to bloom—for first-time homebuyers, in particular. The National Association of Realtors reports total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in May from an upwardly revised 5.09 million in April, largely because of the surge in first time buyers. Sales have now increased year-over-year for eight consecutive months and are 9.2 percent above a year ago (4.90 million).

And new-home sales also soared. New single-family homes in the U.S. sold at an annual rate of 546,000 in May, hitting the fastest pace since February 2008, with growth in two of four regions, reports the U.S. Census Bureau this morning. And it revised April’s rate to 534,000. May’s sales rate was up 19.5 percent from a year earlier, signaling a healthy pick up, though recent sales rates remain below long-term averages.

image

Graph: Calculated Risk

This graph shows existing-home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in May (5.35 million SAAR) were 5.1 percent higher than last month, and were 9.2 percent above the May 2014 rate.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says May home sales rebounded strongly following April’s decline and are now at their highest pace since November 2009 (5.44 million). “Solid sales gains were seen throughout the country in May as more homeowners listed their home for sale and therefore provided greater choices for buyers,” he said. “However, overall supply still remains tight, homes are selling fast and price growth in many markets continues to teeter at or near double-digit appreciation. Without solid gains in new home construction, prices will likely stay elevated — even with higher mortgage rates above 4 percent.”

The percent share of first-time buyers rose to 32 percent in May, up from 30 percent in April and matching the highest share since September 2012. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 27 percent of all buyers.

“The return of first-time buyers in May is an encouraging sign and is the result of multiple factors, including strong job gains among young adults, less expensive mortgage insurance and lenders offering low down payment programs,” said Yun. “More first-time buyers are expected to enter the market in coming months, but the overall share climbing higher will depend on how fast rates and prices rise.”

The huge jump in existing-home sales means more demand for new homes, as we said last week. The median price of new homes fell 1 percent to $282,800 compared with May 2014, also a good sign for the first-time homebuyers. But there are still not enough homes for sale. The supply of new homes was 4.5 months at May’s sales pace, down from 4.6 months in April.

New Home Sales

Graph: Calculated Risk

This is also why housing starts came in at a 1.036 million rate in May. Though down 11.1 percent from the April rate, which was already one for the record books. But April is now revised higher to 1.165 million, a 22.1 percent gain from March. Sealing matters is another gigantic surge in permits, up 11.8 percent to 1.275 million following a 9.8 percent gain in April.

And this is buttressed by builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes in June up five points to a level of 59, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This is the highest reading since September 2014, and in fact returns the index to pre-bubble (2001-02) levels.

Why the huge construction increase in June? This is while mortgage rates are rising, up some 0.375 percent since their most recent lows to 3.875 percent for 0 points in origination fees for a 30-year fixed rate conforming loan.

Firstly, it means consumers are confident enough in their future to begin to look for housing to support their growing families.  And the millennial generation aged 18 to 36 years has already reached their parents’ baby boomer population size, and will exceed it by 2020, according to demographers. This has to be why household formation is finally returning to normal levels of 1 million plus new households being formed per year, as the so-called echo boomers move out of their parents’ homes and or leave college to make their own nests.

So forecasters will probably be revising their second-quarter GDP estimates higher following the better housing numbers, not to mention their estimates for Thursday’s index of leading economic indicators where permits are one of the components, as we said last week.

Harlan Green © 2015

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly, The Huffington Post, and PeaceCorpsWorldwide.org.
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