I’ll let this soak in.
New development sales are significantly detached from the balance of the market. I selected average sales price to exaggerate the trend to make my point.
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I always like to parse out press release of the NAR Existing Home Sales Report using their data but presented it with proper emphasis. I believe these charts are better ways to interpret the report results.
My two big rules: ignore seasonal adjustments and focus on year-over-year results. The consumer doesn’t know that the EHS report results are heavily adjusted rather than providing the actual results.
Since the annual sales figure is a multiplier of a monthly figure, why do we need to alter the actual numbers any more by adjusting for seasonality? Through recent periods like the possible expiration of the Bush tax cuts (end of 2010), the federal homeowners tax credit for new buyers and existing home buyers as well as the expiration of the fiscal cliff at the end of 2012, seasonal adjustments are subject to maddening skew.
For much of 2013, median sales price was rising at an annual rate of more than 10%…
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Admittedly he has always seen the real estate world through different lenses than I so I am often thrown for a loop when I come across some of the rationale for the current state of the housing market.
A local media outlet recapped his NAREE speech but since I didn’t attend and there is no transcript, I’ll go with the following paraphrasing:
Mortgage rates reached record lows in 2012 and 2013 of around 3.3 percent for 30-year home loans. Homeowners don’t want to let go of those once-in-a-lifetime bargain mortgages, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. So homeowners avoid putting their homes on the market in order to keep those low mortgage rates and that has resulted in super low inventories of home for sale. Although rates are still low (less than 5 percent) many people are opting to rent out their houses so they can hang onto great mortgages, Yun says.
Here’s another way to look at what he says is happening:
Yun – Home sales are not rising (year-over-year) because mortgage rates are so low that would-be sellers won’t sell. They simply love their low mortgage rate more than moving.
My view – Home sales are not rising (year-over-year) because of a combination of rapidly rising home prices that reduces affordability and historically tight mortgage lending standards that resulted record low inventory. Tight credit keeps the roughly 40% of home owners with low or negative equity from selling because they don’t qualify for the next mortgage. Hence, sales fall.
There is clearly way too much emphasis on mortgage rates in our housing economy.
[Source: NAR, click to expand]
Last week we were given another dose of housing news – housing sales didn’t go negative for the first time in four months (m-o-m) as inventory continued to expand and prices kept rising. Even though mortgage rates are down to what they were shortly after the rate spike last spring, it’s not stimulating much of an increase in sales activity (translation: no correlation between housing prices and mortgage rates). I still refer to Nick Timiraos’ epic post of charts last month. Lower sales will continue to expand inventory and take the edge off of price growth.
Looking back over 2013 – the housing market wasn’t “recovering” – prices were rising from the perfect storm of tight credit, sentiment that things were getting better, surviving the fiscal cliff and threat of rising mortgage rates. The market was rebounding off a low point that had nothing to do with fundamentals. I still think we will see some improvement over the next several years but it will be nominal until the economy shows real improvement i.e. jobs, income and credit.
Removing all seasonal adjustments, here’s what the key NAR US Existing Home Sale metrics look like to me:
UPDATE Here’s a wonky explanation from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco of the existing sale slow down in their Economic Letter.
Michelle Conlin of Reuters gives a nice overview of the state of the US housing on PBS, talking through the national reports that hit us recently. Check it out. This month’s weak NAR Existing Home Sales report has unleashed a surge of housing self-loathing (although today’s PHSI seems to take some of the drama/edge off).
NAR released their Existing Home Sales Report on Thursday with a headline that read: February Existing-Home Sales Remain Subdued that blamed the severe winter weather and low inventory for lower sales.
Of course inventory has been near historic lows for a few years so that’s not a new reason. I’m left with the weather and as someone who hates to use the weather as a crutch, it seems to be a pragmatic – it’s difficult to show or be in the mood to view properties when it is zero degrees outside. The weather explanation was also used in the prior report but those contracts were signed in December for the January report, before the “polar vortex.”
I see the recent fretting about the cooling of housing as an indication of how improving conditions were based largely on Fed policy and not fundamentals. The combination of rising mortgage rates and declines from the year ago release of pent-up demand post-”fiscal cliff” likely gets price gains and sales levels in sync with fundamental economic conditions.
I’ve charted NAR EHS stats from the past 4 years without seasonal adjustments. Price gains have been insane so the combination of slowing sales and rising inventory will take the froth out of the market and hopefully get us on a more sustainable path.
After slipping in June, NAR’s Existing Home Sales for July jumped 6.5% unexpectedly from the prior month. Last month the results showed an slight decline (and were adjusted downward for this release) and the thinking was that the market is starting to cool off with the introduction of rising rates to the market in May. The bulk of May contracts probably closed in July, the likely basis of this most recent release. However it looks like the market continued to see a rise in demand in June, following the May bump in rates as people looked to get in the market before rates rose further.
Still, this month over month stuff is pretty ridiculous to place a lot of faith in. The year over year surge of 20.7% (non-seasonally adjusted) and 17.2% jump (seasonally adjusted) is much more telling of the long term market change.
Here are a few other charts to review. Inventory is much lower than a year ago while showing some gains in excess of seasonal trends. Median sales price growth is off the hook. 13.7% YoY growth is not sustainable with flat income, tight credit and high unemployment and underemployment. Thanks goodness for rising rates.
Well, NAR released the August 2012 existing home sale numbers today. Yawn.
More importantly, it’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day and I’ve marked this day on my calendar for nearly as long as the 10-year run it’s had. Just mentioning the annual event to my kids makes them worry about me and yet be embarrassed for me at the the same time.
And yes, home sales are up. [Pirate talk translator]
August Existing-Home Sales and Prices Rise [NAR]
On Talk Like A Pirate Day Jonathan Miller Tells It Like It Is [Curbed DC]
International Talk Like a Pirate Day [Wikipedia]
International Talk Like A Pirate Day [Original Site]
Google’s Pirate Themed Home Page [Google]
NAR’s Existing Home Sales numbers continue to edge higher. In this chart I annualize the non-seasonally adjusted and seasonally adjusted results. Think there isn’t seasonality in housing sales?
Here’s a good summary by Peter Coy at Bloomberg Businessweek.
No doubt a big reason was the improvement in affordability. The interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has continued falling since the period covered by the NAR report, portending better times ahead. Freddie Mac (FMCC), the mortgage-buying giant, says the rate was 3.79 percent in the week ended May 17, the lowest since it began keeping records in 1971. The Realtors’s index of affordability hit a record high in the January-March quarter. It factors in sales prices of existing homes, mortgage rates, and household income, which is slowly strengthening as the labor market improves.
And here’s a trend on inventory and absorption (months supply). Inventory continues to slide (not seasonally adjusted).