Pending Home Sales in U.S. Dip in December
According to the National Association of Realtors, pending home sales declined as a whole in December 2018, but for the second straight month the Western region experienced a slight increase.
The Pending Home Sales Index, forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, decreased 2.2 percent to 99.0 in December, down from 101.2 in November.
Additionally, year-over-year contract signings fell 9.8 percent, making this the twelfth straight month of annual decreases.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, cited several reasons for the decline in pending sales. "The stock market correction hurt consumer confidence, record high home prices cut into affordability and mortgage rates were higher in October and November for consumers signing contracts in December".
All four major regions experienced a decline compared to one year ago, with the South sustaining the largest decrease.
Yun says so far, the partial government shutdown has not caused any obvious damage to home sales. "Seventy-five percent of Realtors reported that they haven't yet felt the impact of the government closure. However, if another government shutdown takes place, it will lead to fewer homes sold," he said.
According to Yun, as the government reopens, more mortgage options will come available for consumers. "Some home transactions were delayed, but we now expect those sales to go forward," he said.
Still, there is growth in certain pockets. Yun cited year-over-year increases in active listings from data at realtor.com to illustrate a potential rise in inventory. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo., Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash., San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif., San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif., and Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash. saw the largest increase in active listings in December compared to a year ago.
Yun says despite the low home sales in December, he is confident that the housing market will see improvement in 2019. "The longer-term growth potential is high. The Federal Reserve announced a change in its stance on monetary policy. Rather than four rate hikes, there will likely be only one increase or even no increase at all. This has already spurred a noticeable fall in the 30-year, fixed-rate for mortgages. As a result, the forecast for home transactions has greatly improved, "Yun said.
December Pending Home Sales Regional Breakdown
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 2.0 percent to 93.2 in December, and is now 2.5 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 0.6 percent to 97.5 in December, 7.2 percent lower than December 2017.
Pending home sales in the South fell 5 percent to an index of 109.7 in December, which is 13.5 percent lower than a year ago. The index in the West increased 1.7 percent in December to 88.4 and fell 10.8 percent below a year ago.
Joel Kan, MBA's Associate Vice President of Industry Surveys and Forecasts said, "December's drop in pending sales was likely the reflection of potential home buyers reacting to the economic uncertainty and significant stock market volatility we saw toward the end of 2018. Weakness in purchase mortgage application activity was prevalent before and around the holidays as well, but there has been a rebound in some of the past few weeks. If home prices continue to moderate, and inventory starts to rise more meaningfully, it is likely that home sales will start to pick up headed into the spring buying season."