The Mortgage Corner
New home sales shot 6.1 percent higher in February to a 592,000-annualized rate and is near the 600,000 top estimate of economists. Sales appeared to have gotten a boost from builder concessions as the median price fell a monthly 3.9 percent to $296,200 for a year-on-year rate that’s suddenly in the negative column at minus 4.9 percent.
And existing home sales were down 3.7 percent in February to a 5.480 million annualized rate, below January’s 5.55 million rate. Details are mostly weak including a 3.0 percent decline for single-family sales to a 4.890 million rate and a sharp 9.2 percent drop for condos to a 590,000 rate. But that could be the end-of-winter blahs, as year-on-year, single-family sales are up 5.8 percent with condos not up so much at 1.7 percent.
Strength in new-home sales was centered in the Midwest where the sales rate surged 21,000 to 89,000 and easily surpassing 11,000 gains for the both the West, at 157,000, and the South at 313,000. Sales in the Northeast fell sharply in last week’s existing home sales report and are down 9,000 to a very low 33,000 annualized rate in today’s new-home report.
But that could also be due to the month’s severe storms, including at least one Nor’easter that brought up to 2 feet of snow to some parts of New England.
What is happening with some conforming prices from FHFA not rising at all in February? In a note by Econoday, the Federal Housing Finance Authority’s house price index came in unchanged in January with year-on-year appreciation falling a steep 5 tenths to 5.7 percent. This is the weakest month-to-month result in more than 4 years and the weakest year-on-year rate since August 2015, and at a time when supply is pointing to very strong conditions, at only 3.8 months for resales which is down 6 weeks from this time last year.
And days on the market are very tight, at 45 vs 59 days a year ago. A highlight of the coming week will be Case-Shiller’s report which tracks resale prices and which, in another housing puzzle, now appears to be violently converging with FHFA.
Another indicator of housing sales, the Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, decreased 2.8 percent to 106.4 in January from an upwardly revised 109.5 in December 2016. Although last month’s index reading is 0.4 percent above last January, it is the lowest since then.
It was insufficient supply levels that led to a lull in contract activity in the Midwest and West, which dragged down pending home sales in January to their lowest level in a year, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says home shoppers in January faced numerous obstacles in their quest to buy a home. “The significant shortage of listings last month along with deteriorating affordability as the result of higher home prices and mortgage rates kept many would-be buyers at bay,” he said. “Buyer traffic is easily outpacing seller traffic in several metro areas and is why homes are selling at a much faster rate than a year ago. Most notably in the West, it’s not uncommon to see a home come off the market within a month.”
All this means that rather than a housing bubble, we are still in a housing shortage with affordable housing the main victim. And any improvement in supply largely depends on mortgage rates remaining low, despite further Federal Reserve rate hikes and a Trump administration spending spree. So I predict we have no more than a one year window for such low rates to remain.
Harlan Green © 2017
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