Friday, October 20, 2017

Rising Existing-Home Sales Not Enough

WASHINGTON (October 20, 2017) — After three straight monthly declines, existing-home sales slightly reversed course in September, but ongoing supply shortages and recent hurricanes muted overall activity and caused sales to fall back on an annual basis, reports the National Association of Realtors.

There aren’t enough homes for sale, in other words, at a time when many more homes are needed.  The inventory for sale is down to 4.2 months’ supply at the current sales rate. How will all the homes lost in the hurricanes and California wild fires be replaced with such low inventories?

It will take massive help from governments and disaster relief agencies, for starters. The U.S. House has voted $51.8 billion in relief aid to date that the Senate will also have to approve; much of it for replacement housing. But that means mobile homes providing immediate shelter from the approaching winter, as happened in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.

It will take much longer to replace those homes destroyed. The ongoing California wildfires have destroyed more than 6,000 homes in Northern California, which is more than half the average total of new homes built in California during ordinary years. And 185,149 homes are estimated to be damaged or destroyed just by Harvey, according to recent data from the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

This will certainly boost the construction industry. But construction also is suffering from a shortage of workers. And affordability is now a problem slowing sales, as housing prices have risen faster than incomes due to the current housing shortage.

Graph: Econoday

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 0.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million in September from 5.35 million in August. Last month's sales pace is 1.5 percent below a year ago but is the second slowest over the past year (behind August).
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings mustered a meager gain in September, but declined on an annual basis for the first time in over a year (July 2016; 2.2 percent). “Home sales in recent months remain at their lowest level of the year and are unable to break through, despite considerable buyer interest in most parts of the country,” he said. “Realtors® this fall continue to say the primary impediments stifling sales growth are the same as they have been all year: not enough listings – especially at the lower end of the market – and fast-rising prices that are straining the budgets of prospective buyers.”
Bottom line is that U.S. and state economies will be given a massive boost by the recent disasters. We can really call it a new, New Deal, since governments will have to approve massive spending bills to rebuild as if it were wartime. Much of that spending has to be for modernizing our infrastructure—which includes all the roads, bridges, water systems, and electrical grids destroyed.

And don’t forget the replacement housing needed. We see such spending can and will prolong this recovery another one or two years. Since such massive spending will require bipartisan support, maybe politics can be thrown out the window this time.

Harlan Green © 2017

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