Pending Home Sales Rise Again In July

The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index is a measure of how many contracts to buy homes were signed during the month. Since the index gauges signings, not closings, it’s a good indicator of upcoming sales of previously owned homes. In July, the index inched up 0.5 percent from the previous month. The index has now risen over year-before levels for 11 consecutive months and is 7.4 percent above last year. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, says the housing market began the second half of the year on a positive note. “Led by a solid gain in the Northeast, contract activity in most of the country held steady last month, which bodes well for existing-sales to maintain their recent elevated pace to close out the summer,” Yun said. “While demand and sales continue to be stronger than earlier this year, Realtors have reported since the spring that available listings in affordable price ranges remain elusive for some buyers trying to reach the market and are likely holding back sales from being more robust.” Regionally, pending sales were up 4 percent in the Northeast, 0.6 percent in the South, and flat in the Midwest. The West saw a slight decline from last month. More here.

Demand For Home Purchase Loans Increases

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, the number of potential home buyers seeking a loan to purchase a home rose 2 percent last week from the week before. The increase was driven by a 5.6 percent jump in the number of buyers applying for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. Government home purchase loans have lower down payment requirements and are typically popular among first-time home buyers, who have less savings and a more difficult time coming up with a down payment. The overall boost in buyer demand came during a week when mortgage rates were mostly down. In fact, rates fell on 30-year fixed-rate loans with both conforming and jumbo balances, in addition to 15-year fixed-rate loans. Mortgage rates on FHA loans rose slightly. Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, said recent stock market volatility hasn’t yet affected results. “The turmoil in global stock markets and subsequent drop in interest rates that began late last week is not evident in these results, but will likely have a significant impact on next week’s results.” Fratantoni told CNBC. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.

New Home Sales 26% Higher Than Last Year

New estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show that, following a 5.4 percent increase in July, sales of newly built single-family homes are now 25.8 percent above where they were one year ago. The improvement represents a significant rebound from June’s estimate, when sales unexpectedly fell nearly 7 percent. Regionally, sales were led by a 23.1 percent surge in the Northeast and also saw strong gains in the West and South. The Midwest, on the other hand, saw a 6.9 percent decline. Also in the report, the number of new homes for sale increased nearly 2 percent last month and is now at its highest level since 2010. Though, inventory still remains low compared to where it was during the height of the housing boom, recent data shows new houses are being built at the fastest pace since 2007, indicating that the positive momentum should continue. That’s good news for potential home buyers, as a growing number of homes available for sale helps moderate price increases and preserves favorable affordability conditions. More here.

Housing Forecast Finds Growth Amid Concerns

Economic growth was weaker than expected during the second quarter of the year, according to a new statement from Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group. But despite disappointing second quarter economic activity, the group hasn’t changed its outlook for the housing market this year. In fact, there are plenty of positive signs to be found. Fannie Mae’s chief economist, Doug Duncan, points to the fact that job creation remains steady and full-time employment is getting closer to pre-recession numbers. Household net worth also continues to rise, though income growth could use more improvement. “We hold by our previous comments that income growth still needs to strengthen, particularly for younger households, in order to drive significant housing growth, but we are nonetheless seeing some positive improvements in the housing sector,” Duncan said. “Home sales have trended up and inventories are lean, supporting strong home price appreciation. That price growth, driven by laggard supply response, helps build equity for existing owners but is a headwind for first-time buyers.” Still, Fannie Mae expects mortgage rates to rise only gradually through the next year, which should help keep buying affordable despite steady price gains. More here.

Home Sales Increase For 3rd Straight Month

Sales of previously owned homes rose two percent in July, according to the National Association of Realtors. The increase marked the third consecutive monthly gain and put sales 10.3 percent above year-before levels. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said there has been an impressive growth in sales during this year’s peak buying season. “The creation of jobs added at a steady clip and the prospect of higher mortgage rates and home prices down the road is encouraging more households to buy now,” Yun said. “As a result, current homeowners are using their increasing housing equity towards the down payment on their next purchase.” The encouraging report wasn’t all good news, however. For example, the number of homes available for sale remains low and, when inventory is low, home prices begin to rise at a faster pace. In July, prices were 5.6 percent higher than one year ago and increased year-over-year for the 41st consecutive month. But despite low inventory and steady price gains, homeownership remains an affordable choice due to low mortgage rates and ever-increasing rents. Also in the report, the typical home for sale stayed on the market for 42 days, up from 34 days in June. More here.

Mortgage Demand Rises As Rates Drop

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, average mortgage rates dropped to 3-month lows last week. Rates were down across all loan categories, including 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with both conforming and jumbo balances, loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, and 15-year fixed-rate loans. “Concerns about the Chinese economy pushed interest rates down last week, resulting in a two basis point decline in 30-year fixed interest rates, bringing the rate down to its lowest since May 2015,” Lynn Fisher, MBA’s vice president of research and economics, said. “The pick-up in refinance activity was led by larger loan sizes on average, as continued investor interest drove jumbo interest rates down even further, by five basis points.” In fact, refinance activity jumped 7 percent from the previous week and, as a share of total mortgage demand, rose to 55.5 percent. On the other hand, purchase demand was down 3 percent from the week before. Still, purchase application demand – which is a good indicator of future home sales – was 19 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The MBA’s survey has been conducted weekly since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.

Single Family Home Construction Ramps Up

New estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show construction of new single-family homes spiked in July, rising 12.8 percent above June’s figure. Housing starts have now been above a one million-unit pace for fourth straight months. After years when new-home construction lagged behind other economic indicators, housing starts are now at their highest level since October 2007. The improvement adds to a number of upbeat economic reports released recently that indicate the economy and housing market have started the third quarter on a strong note. But despite the gains, the number of permits to build new homes – which are generally a good indicator of future construction activity – fell 1.9 percent from the month before. Still, industry analysts believe the decline will only be temporary, as permits have seen many months of increases and builder confidence reached a 10-year high in August. Regionally, single-family home building hit a 7-year high in the South but fell 27.5 percent in the Northeast due to expiring tax incentives. More here.

Cost Of Renting Hits All-Time High

If you’re weighing whether to buy or rent your next home, some newly released numbers may influence your decision. That’s because a new analysis shows rent is more expensive than it has ever been. In fact, renters can now expect to spend 30.2 percent of their monthly income on rent. Typically, 30 percent is what economists say is an acceptable share of monthly income to spend on housing. And, though it is still within range, rent has historically been cheaper. A look at records dating back to 1979 shows renters paying closer to 24 percent of their income on average. But how does renting compare to buying in today’s market? Well, according to this analysis, a typical buyer can expect to pay just 15.1 percent of their monthly income toward their mortgage payment, which is significantly less than the historical average of 21.3 percent. That means, buying a home is still cheaper than renting in most markets and is also more affordable than it has been compared to years’ past. In other words, now is a good time to buy a home and it will continue to be as long as rents continue to climb. More here.

Builders Confident In Market For New Homes

Builders have an unique perspective on the market for newly built, single-family homes. Because of this, the National Association of Home Builders surveys them monthly in order to gauge their feelings about how the market is doing. The NAHB’s Housing Market Index measures builders’ responses on a scale where any number above 50 indicates more builders view conditions as good than poor. In August, the index rose one point to a level of 61. It was the highest reading since November 2005. David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist, says the report is in line with the group’s forecast for the year. “Today’s report is consistent with our forecast for a gradual strengthening of the single-family housing sector in 2015,” Crowe said. “Job and economic gains should keep the market moving forward at a modest pace throughout the rest of the year.” Of the index’s three individual components, two improved over last month. The index measuring buyer traffic was up two points to 45, while the component gauging current sales conditions rose one point to 66. Sales expectations for the next six months remained high but unchanged from the month before at 70. More here.

Mortgage Credit Availability Improves

The Mortgage Credit Availability Index – a monthly report from the Mortgage Bankers Association – tracks whether lending standards are becoming looser or more restrictive. In July, the index increased 2.9 percent, indicating that mortgage credit is becoming more available. “Credit availability increased in July, mainly driven by higher-balance loan programs,” MBA’s chief economist, Mike Fratantoni, said. “Many investors are fine tuning their cash-out refinance requirements to meet increasing borrower demand for home equity financing. Some investors increased the availability of low down payment loans.” Among the four loan types tracked by the index – conventional, jumbo, government, and conforming – the conventional MCAI saw the greatest loosening, according to the report. In fact, the index component tracking conventional loans increased 5.2 percent from the month before. Jumbo loans saw a 4.7 percent increase, while the government and conforming indices both rose less than 1 percent. Following the housing crisis, lending standards became more restrictive and mortgage credit was harder to obtain. Over the past few years, however, standards have normalized somewhat and financing has become more available. More here.