The FINANCIAL -- Pending home sales inched higher for the second consecutive month in March, but unrelenting inventory constraints once again kept overall activity below year ago levels, according to the National Association of Realtors.
The Pending Home Sales Index a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, inched up 0.4 percent to 107.6 in March from a downwardly revised 107.2 in February. Even with last month's increase in activity, the index declined on an annualized basis (3.0 percent) for the third straight month.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says contract activity is moving sideways and not breaking higher despite the strong job-creating economy. "Healthy economic conditions are creating considerable demand for purchasing a home, but not all buyers are able to sign contracts because of the lack of choices in inventory," he said. "Steady price growth and the swift pace listings are coming off the market are proof that more supply is needed to fully satisfy demand1. What continues to hold back sales is the fact that prospective buyers are increasingly having difficulty finding an affordable home to buy."
Added Yun, "As anticipated, the multiple winter storms and unseasonably cold weather contributed to the decrease in contract signings in the Northeast."
Looking ahead to the upcoming peak months for home sales, Yun believes that affordability will be a significant topic of discussion and driving factor of if overall activity can break out above year ago levels. Price appreciation in most markets continues to outpace incomes, and the recent uptick in mortgage rates to over a four-year high only adds to the budget constraints aspiring buyers are feeling this spring.
"Much of the country is enjoying a thriving job market, but buying a home is becoming more expensive," said Yun. "That is why it is an absolute necessity for there to be a large increase in new and existing homes available for sale in coming months to moderate home price growth. Otherwise, sales will remain stuck in this holding pattern and a growing share of would-be buyers — especially first-time buyers — will be left on the sidelines."
Yun forecasts for existing-home sales in 2018 to be around 5.61 million — up from 5.51 million in 2017. The national median existing-home price is expected to increase around 4.4 percent. In 2017, existing sales increased 1.1 percent and prices rose 5.8 percent.
The PHSI in the Northeast fell 5.6 percent to 90.6 in March, and is now 8.1 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest the index rose 2.4 percent to 101.3 in March, but is 6.0 percent lower than March 2017. Pending home sales in the South climbed 2.5 percent to an index of 128.6 in March, and are 0.3 percent higher than last March. The index in the West declined 1.1 percent in March to 94.7, and is 2.2 percent below a year ago. The National Association of Realtors is America's largest trade association, representing 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.