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Contract Data Is Pending Data Is Lagging Data

In our post-Coronavirus world, it is clear that market conditions and our understanding of the future are subject to change every day. In my prior post Establishing the COVID-19 Demarcation Line: From ‘Hanks To Banks’ [1], data that falls after the line represents a different market.

So how do we determine what data falls in after the demarcation line? It’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

Throughout my career, I have seen brokerage firms publish pending/contract reports, touting pending trends as more reliable than reports based on closings. I don’t look at them as better or worse, just a different way to look at the market. The simplistic, uninformed argument for pending sales is that contract dates occur before closing dates, so they are more current. Incidentally, contract prices are not readily shared. I get all of this. Yet I have seen the failure rate of contracts be as high as 40% – in other words, many contracts might not close whereas closing reports are solely based on successful transactions. Still, pending sale trends are useful as long as the reader understands their shortcomings. I plan to develop one someday.

Closing data and contract/pending data lags the “meeting of the minds. [2]

Meeting of the minds (also referred to as mutual agreement, mutual assent, or consensus ad idem) is a phrase in contract law used to describe the intentions of the parties forming the contract. In particular, it refers to the situation where there is a common understanding in the formation of the contract.

While we know that closing dates lag the “meeting of the minds,” we also need to understand that signed contract dates are lagging indicators, often by 2-4 weeks. During this crisis, I’m speculating the failure rate will be high initially, and the time lag will be on the longer end rather than, the shorter end of this 2-4 week range.

Here’s why contract dates are a lagging indicator and not necessarily more insightful than closing data:

1) The “meeting of the minds” occurs when buyers and sellers negotiate price and terms, usually facilitated by a real estate agent or broker.

2) The price and terms are handed off to transaction attorneys who work together to craft language agreeable to both parties.

3) The contract is signed by both parties and often indicated as such in an MLS-type system.

4) In some markets or marketing periods, especially when a market is cooling, many contracts never close, so their initial inclusion makes pending trends reports suspect.

If there is a four week signed contract lag from the meeting of the minds, and considering the March 15 demarcation line for post-Coronavirus, that means that with us being six weeks into the crisis, we are only able to see two weeks worth of post-Coronavirus data. And even with that reality and current shelter in place rules, many current contracts might have been older deals that were facilitated by the buyer who had already inspected the home in January/February – we are seeing some of that now.

In other words, relevant data on the new market remains extremely limited.