Pending Home Sales Rise Behind Gains in Midwest, West

John Jordan | April 1, 2015

WASHINGTON—Pending home sales in February increased to their highest level since June 2013 as sizeable gains in the Midwest and West offset smaller declines in the Northeast and South, the National Association of Realtors announced on March 30.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 3.1% to 106.9 in February from a slight downward revision of 103.7 in January and is now 12.0% above February 2014 (95.4). The index is at its highest level since June 2013 (109.4), has increased year-over-year for six consecutive months and is above 100—considered an average level of activity—for the 10th consecutive month.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said demand appears to be strengthening as we head into the spring buying season. “Pending sales showed solid gains last month, driven by a steadily-improving labor market, mortgage rates hovering around 4% and the likelihood of more renters looking to hedge against increasing rents,” he said. “These factors bode well for the prospect of an uptick in sales in coming months. However, the underlying obstacle—especially for first-time buyers—continues to be the depressed level of homes available for sale.”

According to NAR’s monthly Realtors Confidence Index, the percentage share of first-time buyers increased slightly for the first time in February since November 2014, up to 29% from 28% in January.

“Several markets remain highly-competitive due to supply pressures, and Realtors are reporting severe shortages of move-in ready and available properties in lower price ranges,” added Yun. “The return of first-time buyers this year will depend on how quickly inventory shows up in the market.”

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 2.3% to 81.7 in February, but was 4.1% above a year ago. In the Midwest the index leaped 11.6% to 110.4 in February, and was 13.8% above February 2014.

Pending home sales in the South decreased 1.4% to an index of 120.2 in February, but was still 10.8% above last February. The index in the West climbed 6.6% in February to 102.1 (highest since June 2013 at 111.4) and was now 18.3% above a year ago.

Total existing-homes sales in 2015 are forecast to be around 5.25 million, an increase of 6.4% from 2014. The national median existing-home price for all of this year is expected to increase around 5.6%. In 2014, existing-home sales declined 2.9% and prices rose 5.7%.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth