Pending Home Sales Show Healthy Gain

Pending home sales increased as more buyers took advantage of improved affordability conditions, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Big gains in the South and Midwest offset modest declines in other regions.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in December, rose 6.3 percent to 87.7 from an upwardly revised reading of 82.5 in November, and is 2.1 percent higher than December 2007 when it was 85.9.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the index shows a modest rebound. “The monthly gain in pending home sales, spurred by buyers responding to lower home prices and mortgage interest rates, more than offset an index decline in the previous month,” he said. “The biggest gains were in areas with the biggest improvements in affordability.”

NAR’s Housing Affordability index rose 10.9 percent in December to 158.8, the highest on record.2 The HAI shows that the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income is the most favorable since tracking began in 1970.

“Significant uncertainty still clouds the housing market despite improved affordability conditions. For a sustainable housing market recovery and, hence, sustainable economic recovery, we need a significant housing stimulus and mortgage availability for qualified borrowers,” Yun added.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said the rise in contract signings is encouraging. “However, housing activity remains weak compared with potential demand, and the market is fragile given the economic backdrop,” he said.

“We can’t take our eye off the need to stimulate housing, which can set the foundation for an economic recovery,” McMillan said. “Last week’s actions in the House to eliminate the repayment feature on the first-time home buyer tax credit, and to raise mortgage loan limits, are helpful. However, we need to take additional steps to meaningfully draw down inventory and stabilize home prices.”

McMillan said some enhancements that could bring more buyers into the market include expanding the $7,500 tax credit to all home buyers and extending it until the end of 2009, and making loan limit increases permanent. “We also need to direct funds in the Troubled Asset Relief Program to add liquidity to the mortgage market, buy down mortgage interest rates and increase other forms of credit,” he said.

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