The Mortgage Corner
New U.S. homes sold at an annual rate of 539,000 in February to mark the best month of sales in seven years, the government reported Tuesday. The pace of sales for January was also revised up sharply to 500,000. It's the first time annualized sales have hit 500,000 or more for two straight months since early 2008.
“This is 7.8 percent above the revised January rate of 500,000 and is 24.8 percent above the February 2014 estimate of 432,000," said the Census Bureau. And it reduced the for sale inventory to a 4.7 month supply, which is low considering the pent up demand for housing sales sure to grow this year, with low inflation and rising employment.
Low inflation should be a factor in housing sales this year, if oil prices stabilize, since it boosts householders’ take home pay. Price rises moderated last year. The Federal Housing Finance Authority just reported that same-home prices of homes with conforming loans rose 5.1 percent in January, down slightly from 5.4 percent in December. But we are in mid-winter, so look for more price rises as the spring selling season kicks in.
Overall CPI inflation was unchanged in February, which is better than the negative -0.1 percent drop in January. Oil prices have stabilized around $50/barrel for Brent Crude at the moment, but who knows what this year will bring with so much unrest with major oil producers in the Middle East, and even Russia?
CNBC’s Diana Olick reports that lack of existing-home inventory is the real problem. “Lack of supply of existing homes is pushing prices again, up 7.5 percent year over year to a median sale price of $202,600 in February, according to the NAR, that reported slower February existing home sales,” she says. “And don’t blame it on the weather, according to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.
“He calls this reacceleration of price gains, "unhealthy," per Olick. “Affordability had been helping the housing recovery inch along, but now it is weakening and fast becoming a roadblock to homeownership. Still-rising rents are contributing to the problem, keeping first-time buyers from being able to save for a down payment.”
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million in February from 4.82 million in January. Sales are 4.7 percent higher than a year ago and above year-over-year totals for the fifth consecutive month.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says although February sales showed modest improvement, there’s been some stagnation in the market in recent months. “Insufficient supply appears to be hampering prospective buyers in several areas of the country and is hiking prices to near unsuitable levels,” he said. “Stronger price growth is a boon for homeowners looking to build additional equity, but it continues to be an obstacle for current buyers looking to close before rates rise.”
The median existing-home price for all housing types in February was $202,600, which is 7.5 percent above February 2014. This marks the 36th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains and the largest since last February (8.8 percent).
Hence those rising prices and low inventories should spur more new-home construction this year. But housing construction is barely in recovery mode, and has a long way to go to approach the 800,000 to 1 million unit per year average of past decades.
Harlan Green © 2015
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