According to the National Association of Realtors, U.S. pending home sales expanded in most of the country in July 2016, and reached their second highest reading in over a decade. Only the Midwest saw a dip in contract activity last month.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 1.3 percent to 111.3 in July from a downwardly revised 109.9 in June and is now 1.4 percent higher than July 2015 (109.8). The index is now at its second highest reading this year after April (115.0).
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says a sizable jump in the West lifted pending home sales higher in July. "Amidst tight inventory conditions that have lingered the entire summer, contract activity last month was able to pick up at least modestly in a majority of areas," he said. "More home shoppers having success is good news for the housing market heading into the fall, but buyers still have few choices and little time before deciding to make an offer on a home available for sale. There's little doubt there'd be more sales activity right now if there were more affordable listings on the market."
Adds Yun, "The index in the West last month was the highest in over three years largely because of stronger labor market conditions. If homebuilding increases in the region to tame price growth and alleviate the ongoing affordability concerns, the healthy rate of job gains should support more sales."
Recent residential construction data shows that the size and costs of new homes has moved downward over the past year. According to Yun, this is an early indication that homebuilders are beginning to shift away from building larger, more expensive homes for the upper end of the market to focusing more on properties geared for buyers in the middle and lower price tiers.
"Agents in several high-cost areas have been saying for quite a while that there is robust demand for single-family starter homes and townhomes at an affordable price point for young buyers," adds Yun. "The homeownership rate won't move up from its over 50-year low without a meaningful boost from first-time buyers, whose participation has yet to noticeably increase so far this year despite mortgage rates near all-time lows"
Existing-home sales this year are forecast to be around 5.38 million, a 2.8 percent increase from 2015 and the highest annual pace since 2006 (6.48 million). After accelerating to 6.8 percent a year ago, national median existing-home price growth is forecast to slightly moderate to around 4 percent.
The PHSI in the Northeast moved up 0.8 percent to 96.8 in July, and is now 1.1 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index decreased 2.9 percent to 105.8 in July, and is now 1.1 percent lower than July 2015.
Pending home sales in the South inched higher (0.8 percent) to an index of 123.9 in July and are now 0.4 percent higher than last July. The index in the West surged 7.3 percent in July to 108.7, and is now 6.2 percent above a year ago.