According to the National Association of Realtors, pending home sales in the U.S. dipped in May 2016, and declined year-over-year for the first time in almost two years. All four major regions experienced a cutback in contract activity last month.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, slid 3.7 percent to 110.8 in May from a downwardly revised 115.0 in April and is now slightly lower (0.2 percent) than May 2015 (111.0). With last month's decline, the index reading is still the third highest in the past year, but declined year-over-year for the first time since August 2014.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says pending sales slumped in May across most of the country. "With demand holding firm this spring and homes selling even faster than a year ago, the notable increase in closings in recent months took a dent out of what was available for sale in May and ultimately dragged down contract activity," he said. "Realtors are acknowledging with increasing frequency lately that buyers continue to be frustrated by the tense competition and lack of affordable homes for sale in their market."
Despite mortgage rates hovering around three-year lows for most of the year, Yun says scant supply and swiftly rising home prices - which surpassed their all-time high last month - are creating an availability and affordability crunch that's preventing what should be a more robust pace of sales.
"Total housing inventory at the end of each month has remarkably decreased year-over-year now for an entire year3," adds Yun. "There are simply not enough homes coming onto the market to catch up with demand and to keep prices more in line with inflation and wage growth."
Looking ahead to the second half of the year, Yun says the fallout from the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union breeds both immediate opportunity as well as potential headwinds for the U.S. housing market.
"In the short term, volatility in the financial markets could very likely lead to even lower mortgage rates and increased demand from foreign buyers looking for a safer place to invest their cash," he said. "On the other hand, any prolonged market angst and further economic uncertainty overseas could negatively impact our economy and end up tempering the overall appetite for homebuying."
In spite of last month's step back in contract signings, existing-home sales this year are still expected to be around 5.44 million, a 3.7 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 dropped 5.3 percent to 93.0 in May, and is now unchanged from a year ago. In the Midwest the index slipped 4.2 percent to 108.0 in May, and is now 1.8 percent below May 2015.
Pending home sales in the South declined 3.1 percent to an index of 126.6 in May but are still 0.6 percent higher than last May. The index in the West decreased 3.4 percent in May to 102.6, and is now 0.1 percent below a year ago.