Housing Sales, Prices Continue Skyward

The Mortgage Corner

The S&P Case Shiller Home Price Index continues to soar, with Seattle and Portland existing-home prices up double digits in a year, while Dallas and Denver are up some 8 percent annually.

Case-Shiller’s national index is within a hair of its 2006 peak — just 0.1 percent below. The smaller 20-City index is 7.2 percent lower. Tight inventory has constrained the housing market for years, driving prices higher. Many analysts have expected to see price gains decelerate in response, especially in overheated metros like San Francisco, but that hasn’t happened yet. San Francisco prices were flat in July but picked up again in August, and are up 6.7 percent in a year.

September existing-home sales are also soaring again, after a slight drop in August. September sales surged 3.2 percent to a 5.470 million annualized rate that exceeds Econoday’s high estimate. The key single-family component leads the report, up 4.1 percent to a 4.860 million rate while condos, where choices are limited and permits for new building are on the rise, fell 3.2 percent to a 610,000 rate.

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Graph: Econoday

It is possible because mortgage rates are still at record lows, with the 30-year conforming fixed rate still as low as 3.0 percent for those that want to buy down the rate and have excellent credit. Fannie and Freddie offer their best rates to those with 740 plus credit scores.

This has enabled more first-time homebuyers to own homes, with their percentage up to 34 percent of sales. Regionally, September sales were strongest in the West, up 5.0 percent for a year-on-year gain of 1.6 percent, and in the Midwest, up 3.9 percent on the month for a year-on-year plus 2.3 percent. Total year-on-year resales are up but only fractionally, at plus 0.6 percent.

But the existing-home inventory of homes for sale is still at a 4.5 month supply at the current sales rate, hardly enough to supply the rising demand from first-time homebuyers. And so new-home sales have to eventually fill the void.

New-home sales are still struggling in September, up 3.1 percent to a 593,000 annualized rate, though sharp downward revisions to both August (575,000 from 609,000) and also July (629,000 from 659,000) do lower expectations for more solid strength in the new home market. But year-on-year, sales are up 30 percent in what is a sharp contrast to the fractional 0.6 percent gain on the existing-home side.

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Graph: Econoday

The potential for more inventory is mixed with new-home construction permits higher in what is a deceptively solid housing starts & permits report. Starts plunged what looks like a shocking 9.0 percent in September, to a 1.047 million annualized rate. But the drop is tied entirely to the volatile multi-family component where starts fell a massive 38 percent in the month to a 264,000 rate. The more important single-family component is up sharply in its own right, 8.1 percent higher to a 783,000 rate.

We can therefore see from the graph that starts are still on an upward trend, which is needed if we want housing prices to mitigate their sharp rises of late, and so make housing more affordable to those youngest household-forming adults.

The demand is there as evidenced by the sharp rise in new-home prices nationally, up 6.7 percent in the month to a median $313,500. And further price gains can be expected as the year-on-year gain, in contrast to the surge in sales, is only 1.9 percent, says Econoday, while the existing-home median price is already up 15 percent this year, per the NAR’s affordability index.

Harlan Green © 2016

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 and The Huffington Post
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