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Monday, July 6, 2009

NAR: Pending home sales up for 4th straight month

July 2, 2009 – Pending home sales show a sustained uptrend, rising for four consecutive months, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Very favorable housing affordability and a first-time buyer tax credit have boosted activity.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in May, increased 0.1 percent to 90.7 from an upwardly revised reading of 90.6 in April. It’s 6.7 percent higher than one year earlier when it was 85.0 in May 2008. The last time there were four consecutive monthly gains was in October 2004.

“Closed existing-home sales have improved but are coming in lower than expected because some contracts are delayed or falling through from the application of new appraisal rules for many transactions,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Rises in contract activity show buyers are becoming more active even as they face much more stringent loan underwriting standards. Speedy clarification of the appraisal rules could smooth a housing market recovery and support the overall economy.”

The Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast rose 3.1 percent to 80.9 in May and is 6.8 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index slipped 1.3 percent to 89.2 but is 11.4 percent above May 2008. The index in the South declined 1.7 percent to 92.6 in May but is 7.9 percent higher than a year ago. In the West the index rose 2.2 percent to 96.9 and is 0.7 percent above May 2008.

NAR President Charles McMillan says the appraisal issue is complicated. “We see that distressed homes often are selling for 20 percent less than normal homes in the same area, but some appraisals don’t distinguish between traditional homes and distressed property,” he says. “In many cases, appraisers from outside the area are being used; but as everyone knows, real estate is local, and appraisals should be done by an expert with local expertise.”

McMillan says sellers shouldn’t hesitate to speak with an appraiser about their home. “Sellers should feel free to tell an appraiser about improvements and renovations to their home, and how it compares with other homes in the neighborhood.

“Also, if recent sales in the neighborhood were discounted, but not similar to your home in terms of quality or condition, that should be pointed out. It wouldn’t hurt to put all this in writing, especially if an appraiser is not familiar with your area. A Realtor® could offer guidance and information to help you with this process.”

NAR’s Housing Affordability Index remains at historic highs. The affordability index fell to 171.6 in May from an upwardly revised 178.8 in April, which was the highest on record dating back to 1970. “Under these conditions, the typical family would devote only 14.6 percent of gross income to mortgage principal and interest, which is one of the lowest percentages on record,” Yun said.

The HAI is a broad measure of housing affordability using consistent values and assumptions over time, which examines the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income.

A median-income family, earning $60,800, could afford a home costing $296,700 in May with a 20 percent downpayment, assuming 25 percent of gross income is devoted to mortgage principal and interest. Affordability conditions for first-time buyers with the same income and small downpayments are roughly 80 percent of what a median-income family can afford. The affordable price was significantly higher than the median existing single-family home price in May, which was $172,900.

The first-time buyer tax credit also is benefiting the market. “Strong activity by entry-level buyers is helping to absorb inventory and allow some existing owners to make a trade,” Yun said.

Existing-home sales should trend up through the end of the year, with normal local market differences. “The big question is how much the appraisal issue will impact the ability of contracts to go to closing,” Yun said. “We are currently conducting a study to assess the degree to which new appraisal rules are impacting home sales.”

"Copyright National Association of REALTORS®, Reprinted from REALTOR.org with permission."

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