Pending home sales rose for the third consecutive month in April and reached their highest level in over a decade, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. All major regions saw gains in contract activity last month except for the Midwest, which saw a meager decline.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, hiked up 5.1 percent to 116.3 in April from an upwardly revised 110.7 in March and is now 4.6 percent above April 2015 (111.2). After last month’s gain, the index has now increased year-over-year for 20 consecutive months.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says vast gains in the South and West propelled pending sales in April to their highest level since February 2006 (117.4). “The ability to sign a contract on a home is slightly exceeding expectations this spring even with the affordability stresses and inventory squeezes affecting buyers in a number of markets,” he says. “The building momentum from the over 14 million jobs created since 2010 and the prospect of facing higher rents and mortgage rates down the road appear to be bringing more interested buyers into the market.”
On the topic of mortgage rates, which have remained below 4 percent in 16 of the past 17 months, Yun says it remains to be seen how long they will stay this low. Along with rent growth, rising gas prices – and the fading effects of last year’s cheap oil on consumer prices – could edge up inflation and push rates higher. For now, he foresees mortgage rates continuing to hover around 4 percent in the coming months, but inflation could potentially surprise the market and cause rates to increase suddenly.
Adds Yun, “Even if rates rise soon, sales have legs for further expansion this summer if housing supply increases enough to give buyers an adequate number of affordable choices during their search.”
Following the housing market’s best first quarter of existing-sales since 2007 (5.66 million) and a decent increase (1.7 percent) in April, Yun expects sales this year to climb above earlier estimates and be around 5.41 million, a 3.0 percent boost from 2015. After accelerating to 6.8 percent a year ago, national median existing-home price growth is forecast to slightly moderate to between 4 and 5 percent.
The PHSI in the Northeast climbed 1.2 percent to 98.2 in April, and is now 10.1 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index declined slightly (0.6 percent) to 112.9 in April, but is still 2.0 percent above April 2015.
Pending home sales in the South jumped 6.8 percent to an index of 133.9 in April and are 5.1 percent higher than last April. The index in the West soared 11.4 percent in April to 106.2, and is now 2.8 percent above a year ago.
“This report rounds out a triple crown of April home sales reports with existing home closings, new pending contracts, and new home sales all solidly up as the spring buying season ramped up,” says realtor.com chief economist Jonathan Smoke. “Across these metrics, the pace of total home sales is up more than 10 percent over last year, putting 2016 in the pole position to earn the standing of the best year in a decade.”
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.