A Summer Rise in Home Sales on the way

A flat pattern in home sales activity should continue for the next couple months before improving over the summer, according to the latest forecast by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said the extent of an expected recovery hinges on better access to affordable loans. “Things are beginning to improve, but the availability of affordable mortgages is uneven around the country and sometimes within metropolitan areas,” he says. “As anticipated, we continue to look for a soft first half of the year, for both housing and the economy, before notable improvements in the second half. Some time is needed for FHA and new conforming jumbo loans to become widely available.”

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in March, edged down 1.0 percent to 83.0 from a downwardly revised level of 83.8 in February, and was 20.1 percent lower than the March 2007 index of 103.9.

NAR President Richard F. Gaylord says additional costs in many markets are hindering a recovery. “Our members are telling us that more buyers are looking at homes but are slow in signing contracts, and that’s contributing to the weakness in pending home sales,” he says. “In many cases buyers are waiting for greater access to affordable credit, especially in higher cost areas, but some are disappointed with what appears to be unnecessarily restrictive lending requirements. The good news this week is there is some discussion toward relaxing some of the burdensome lending practices.”

The PHSI in the Northeast jumped 12.5 percent in March to 80.8 but remains 15.4 percent below a year ago. In the South, the index slipped 0.1 percent to 84.9 and is 26.7 percent lower than March 2007. The index in the West declined 1.4 percent in March to 91.2 and is 9.5 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 10.4 percent in March to 74.1 and is 22.3 percent below March 2007.

Existing-home sales are projected to rise from an annual pace of 4.95 million in the first quarter to 5.82 million in the fourth quarter. For all of 2008, existing-home sales are likely to total 5.39 million, and then rise 6.1 percent to 5.72 million next year. “Although more than half of local markets are expected to see price growth this year, the aggregate existing-home price will decline 2.4 percent in 2008, driven by a relatively few markets that are very oversupplied,” Yun says. The median price is forecast at $213,700 this year before rising 4.1 percent to $222,600 in 2009.

Some areas already are seeing sales increases, underscoring that all real estate is local. In March, unpublished snapshot data shows sales in Bakersfield, Calif., and Jackson, Miss., were higher than a year ago. At the same time, price gains were noted in markets such as Buffalo-Niagara Falls, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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