In a grim sign for the housing market's busiest season, pending home sales, which measure signed contracts on existing homes, fell 4.1% in February compared with January, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales were down 5.4% compared with February 2021. Analysts were expecting a slight gain. This is the fourth straight month of declines in pending sales, which are an indicator of future closings, one to two months out. Since this count is based on signed contracts in February, when mortgage rates really started to take off, it is a strong indicator of how the market is reacting to the new rate environment, especially as it is entering the crucial spring season.
Pending home sales declined in February for the fourth month in a row, as would-be buyers grapple with fewer, pricier homes to choose from and rising interest rates. Contract signings dropped by 4.1% last month from January and were down 5.4% year over year with all four regions in the U.S. seeing a decline, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors. "Pending transactions diminished in February mainly due to the low number of homes for sale," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "Buyer demand is still intense, but it's as simple as 'one cannot buy what is not for sale.'" Yun anticipates a 7% decline in home sales this year compared to last, and forecasts that rates will hover around 4.5% to 5% for the remainder of 2022. "It is still an extremely competitive market, but fast-changing conditions regarding affordability are ahead," he said. "Consequently, home sellers cannot simply bump up prices in the upcoming months, but need to assess the changing market conditions to attract buyers."
The popular spring home-buying season is just ramping up. But one analyst is warning that it could be a bust. Ian Shepherdson, chief economist and founder of research consulting firm Pantheon Macroeconomics, is predicting a dramatic fall in the pace of home sales this year. In a research note, he projected that existing-home sales will drop roughly 25% from the annual pace of 6.02 million set in February to a rate of 4.5 million by the end of summer.
"The housing market is in the early stages of a substantial downshift in activity, which will trigger a steep decline in the rate of increase of home prices, starting perhaps as soon as the spring," Shepherdson wrote in a research note distributed Sunday. There has been a drop in mortgage demand which typically predicts a downturn in home sales, since most buyers rely on financing to make sure a large purchase. Issues around affordability are likely to blame for the decline.
The ripple effects of a shift in existing-home sales would be far-reaching, Shepherdson said, arguing that the pace of rent increases would eventually slow and perhaps even reverse. It also would spread to new-home sales, which he expects will likewise fall. A decrease in new-home sales would represent a downward drag on GDP, since that would implicate less demand for services tied to home-building and less spending on items like building materials and appliances.
The bad news for any Americans who persist in trying to buy a home under these conditions is that it's less clear how this situation will ultimately impact the availability of homes for sale. Part of why home prices have surged is that there is a significant lack of inventory in the housing market, which has fueled competition for what few homes are listed for sale. A drop in demand would seemingly lead to a boost in the inventory of homes for sale.
Dallas-Fort Worth had the greatest third-quarter home sales decline of any major Texas metro area. But D-FW still topped the state in total properties sold by residential real estate agents. In the third quarter, area real estate agents sold 31,486 single-family homes — 9.3% fewer sales than in the same quarter last year, according to a report from the Texas Realtors Association. "Although we're seeing a slight decline in homes sold from the same period a year ago, it's important to remember we're comparing to 2020′s record-breaking numbers," Marvin Jolly, chairman of the Texas Realtors Association, said in the report. "Across the state, we're still experiencing strong demand for housing, and buyers are moving to Texas from all over the nation." North Texas single-family home sales by real estate agents have been lower than the previous year in each of the past four months. The drop in home purchases is due to a lack of properties on the market and record prices, which have kept some potential buyers out of the market, analysts say.