The National Association of Realtors (NAR) Wednesday morning released its data on pending sales of existing homes for the month of February. The pending home sales index rose 3.1% from a downwardly revised January reading of 104.3 to 107.5. The February index is 4.1% lower than in February 2017.
February sales rose in all four NAR geographical regions.
The consensus estimate called for a month-over-month increase of 2.7% in pending sales. The index reflects signed contracts, not sales closings. An index reading of 100 equals the average level of contract signings during 2001.
The index has been above 100 (the “average” reading) for 40 straight months.
The NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, noted:
Contract signings rebounded in most areas in February, but the gains were not large enough to keep up with last February’s level, which was the second highest in over a decade (112.1). The expanding economy and healthy job market are generating sizeable homebuyer demand, but the miniscule number of listings on the market and its adverse effect on affordability are squeezing buyers and suppressing overall activity.
Homeowners are already staying in their homes at an all-time high before selling, and any situation where they remain put even longer only exacerbates the nation’s inventory crunch. Even if new home construction starts picking up at a faster pace this year, as expected, existing sales will fail to break out if these record low supply levels do not recover enough to meet demand.
By region, February pending home sales jumped by 10.3 percentage points to an index score of 96 in the Northeast, still down 5.1 points compared with February 2017. In the Midwest, sales inched up 0.7 point to an index score of 98.9, down 9.5 points compared to last year’s index.
Sales also inched up 0.4% in the West to an index score of 96.9 and remain down 2.2 points year over year for the month. Sales in the South rose 3.0 points to 125.7 in February and are now 1.5 points below the year-ago index score.
Existing-home sales closed 2017 at around 5.51 million. The NAR’s Yun expects 2018 sales of around 5.5 million, down from a prior estimate of 5.8 million. The national median existing-home price in 2017 rose by 5.8%. In 2016, existing sales increased 3.8% and prices rose 5.1%. Yun now estimates that 2018 price growth would moderate to around 4.2% for the year.