Pending Home Sales Rise Again In July

The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking indicator of future home sales based on the number of contracts to buy houses that are signed each month. In July, the index rose 3.3 percent, marking the fourth time in five months contract activity has increased. The index is now at its highest level since August of last year. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said favorable housing conditions are behind the gains. Specifically, Yun noted lower mortgage rates, moderating price growth, and rising inventory as some of the factors driving a recent uptick in sales and general optimism about the housing market’s health. The increase in the number of new and existing homes for sale is creating less competition and is giving prospective buyers more time to review their options before submitting an offer, Yun said. Regionally, the index showed large gains in the South, West, and Northeast. The Midwest, on the other hand, was relatively flat, dropping 0.4 percent from the previous month. More here.

Home Loan Demand Increases, Rates Mixed

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, demand for mortgage applications increased 2.8 percent last week from the week before. The increase marked the second straight week of improvement and was driven by gains in both refinance and purchase activity. The Refinance Index was up 3 percent from the previous week and – as a share of total mortgage activity – refinance demand reached its highest level since March. The Purchase Index, which is a future indicator of home sales, was also up, increasing 3 percent from the week before. The gains came during a week when mortgage rates were mixed. Rates fell for 30-year fixed-rate loans with conforming loan balances and for mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration. On the other hand, mortgage rates rose for 30-year loans with jumbo balances and also for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages. The MBA’s weekly applications survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.

New Home Sales Up 12.3% From One Year Ago

New estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales of newly built single-family homes up 12.3 percent from last year. The improvement is good news for the new home market but comes at the same time month-over-month numbers are falling. In July, for example, new home sales fell 2.4 percent from June, the third consecutive monthly decline. Still, despite a slow summer, recent data – including housing starts and builder confidence – shows an overall upward trend for the new home market. Optimism is building based on an increase in buyer traffic and improved inventory levels. In fact, at the current sales pace, there was a six-month supply of new homes available for sale at the end of July. Generally, a six-month supply is considered to be a healthy market. Also, the median sales price of new homes sold in July was $269,800. That is the lowest median sales price since October 2013. More here.

Existing Home Sales Hit High In July

According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of previously owned homes rose to their highest level of the year in July. Existing-home sales – which include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops – increased 2.4 percent from the month before. It was the fourth consecutive month of improvement. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said sales momentum is slowly building behind stronger job growth and improving inventory conditions. Yun believes more people are buying homes compared to earlier in the year because the number of homes available for sale is rising and price increases are moderating. Because of this, prospective home buyers feel more comfortable entering the market. Yun expects sales to continue trending upward, especially since rent continues to increase and mortgage rates remain near historic lows. Also in the report, the median existing-home price was $220,900 in July, that’s 4.9 percent above last year. Total housing inventory was up 3.5 percent at the end of the month. Unsold inventory is now 5.8 percent higher than one year ago. More here.

Builders Optimistic About New Home Market

For the third consecutive month, surveyed builders expressed increasing confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index. The index is derived from a monthly survey which scores builders confidence on a scale where any number above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor. In August, the index rose two points to 55. It is now at the highest level it’s been since January. Kevin Kelly, NAHB’s chairman, said, as the employment picture brightens, builders are seeing a noticeable increase in the number of serious buyers entering the market. In fact, the component measuring traffic of prospective buyers was up three points, while the gauges of both current sales conditions and expectations for future sales rose two points each. Regionally, the Midwest saw a seven-point increase, the West rose four points, the Northeast was up two, and the South gained one point. David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist, said builder confidence appears to be firming following an uneven spring. According to Crowe, the factors contributing to this improvement are sustained job growth, historically low mortgage rates, and affordable home prices. More here.

Housing Starts Up 22% Since Last Year

New home construction is up 21.7 percent since last July, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The new residential construction report – which tracks building permits, housing starts, and housing completions – found a 15.7 percent month-over-month increase in the number of new homes that began construction in July, pushing home construction to its highest level since last November. There was also an 8.1 percent jump in the number of permits to build homes compared to the month before. The positive progress is a bright spot in what has been an up-and-down summer for the housing market. Still, a closer look at the report reveals that – though single-family housing starts rose 8.3 percent in July – permits to build single-family homes rose just 0.9 percent from June, indicating that the improvement in building permits was mainly due to a spike in multi-family authorizations. More here.

Mortgage Demand Rises As Rates Fall Again

Demand for mortgage applications rose last week as mortgage rates continued to trend downward. In fact, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, mortgage rates fell across all loan categories, including 30-year fixed-rate loans with both conforming and jumbo balances, mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, and 15-year fixed-rate loans. The drop in rates led to a spike in refinance activity, which drove the Market Composite Index – which measures both refinance and purchase demand – up 1.4 percent from the previous week. Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, said interest rates dropped further as a result of international concerns, which in turn pushed mortgage rates lower. According to Fratantoni, overall application volume for conventional mortgages increased but demand for government mortgages, including Department of Veterans Affairs, FHA, and Rural Housing Service applications declined sharply. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgages. More here.

Economy Accelerates, Will Housing Follow?

According to the latest release from Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group, economic growth rebounded beyond expectation during the second quarter. Combined with an upward revision to first quarter activity, the improvement indicates the economy is growing slightly faster than originally forecast. Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, said the August outlook supports the expectation that the second half of the year will push full-year growth into positive territory. Unfortunately, despite the good economic news, the housing market’s contribution has been disappointing. Duncan believes housing activity has suffered due to severe weather in the first half of the year and the impact on mortgage rates from the expectation that the Federal Reserve would soon begin tapering their securities purchases. These factors have led to very little seasonal growth in the residential real-estate market. But though Fannie Mae expects home sales to finish lower this year than last, they also expect 2015 to be stronger than both 2013 and 2014. More here.

Majority Of Homes For Sale Still Affordable

A family earning the U.S. median income of $63,900 could afford 62.6 percent of the new and existing homes sold during the second quarter of this year, according to the most recent National Association of Home Builders Housing Opportunity Index. Homes sold in the first quarter of this year were affordable to 65.5 percent of median-income earners. Despite the dip, affordability levels continue to be high by historical standards. Kevin Kelly, NAHB’s chairman, said now continues to be a great opportunity to buy a home, with mortgage rates near historic lows and job growth strengthening. In fact, the average mortgage interest rate decreased during the second quarter. Prices, on the other hand, rose. Nationally, the median home price increased from $195,000 in the first quarter to $214,000 in the second quarter. According to the NAHB’s chief economist, David Crowe, affordability levels are now where they were before the mid-2000s housing boom, reflecting a slow, steady climb back from the lows experienced following the financial crisis and recession. More here.

Local Markets Gradually Return To Normal

The housing market’s slow paced recovery continues as more and more local real-estate markets return to normal levels of activity, according to a new report from the National Association of Home Builders. The NAHB’s Leading Markets Index measures how quickly more than 350 metro areas are returning to normal based on a comparison of their current building permit, home price, and employment data to averages from their last period of normal growth. The most recent report finds that the nationwide average is 89 percent of normal economic and housing activity, with 78 percent of metro markets showing year-over-year improvement. Kevin Kelly, NAHB’s chairman, said things are gradually improving and, as the job market grows, there should be a steady release of pent-up buyer demand. In fact, the job market is the most improved of the index’s components, with the number of metropolitan areas that have reached or exceeded their previous norms having jumped from 26 to 46 since last year. On the other hand, single-family housing permits are the component of the index which have been slowest to return to normal. More here.