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US pending home sales reach highest level since June 2013

Sizeable gains in the Midwest and West offset smaller declines in the Northeast and South and overall demand is increasing as the residential real estate market moves into the spring buying seasons.

The NAR pending homes sales index, which is 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% above February 2014.

Indeed, the index is at its highest level since June 2013 when it was 109.4, and has increased year on year for six consecutive months and. It is also above 100, considered an average level of activity, for the tenth consecutive month.

‘Pending sales showed solid gains last month, driven by a steadily improving labour market, mortgage rates hovering around 4% and the likelihood of more renters looking to hedge against increasing rents,’ said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

‘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,’ he added.

According to NAR’s monthly confidence index the percent 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 real estate agents are reporting severe shortages of move-in ready and available properties in lower price ranges. The return of first time buyers this year will depend on how quickly inventory shows up in the market,’ Yun explained.

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 2.3% in February, but is 4.1% above a year ago. In the Midwest the index leaped 11.6% and is now 13.8% above February 2014. Pending home sales in the South decreased 1.4% but is still 10.8% above last February. The index in the West climbed 6.6%, the highest since June 2013, and is 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%.