Existing-home sales are projected to trend up in 2008, with pending home sales showing a slight near-term rise, according to the latest forecast by the National Association of Realtors. However, a recovery for new-home sales is unlikely before 2009.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the worst part of the credit crunch has already worked its way through the data. "The unusual mortgage disruptions that peaked in August were clearly seen in lower home sales that were finalized in September and October, so the market was underperforming," he said. "Now that mortgage conditions have improved, some postponed activity should turn up in existing-home sales over the next couple of months, and I expect sales at fairly stable to slightly higher levels."
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in October, increased 0.6 percent to an index of 87.2 from an upwardly revised reading of 86.7 in September. It was the second consecutive monthly gain, but remained 18.4 percent below the October 2006 index of 106.8. "The broad trend over the coming year will be a gradual rise in existing-home sales, but because sales are exceptionally low in the final months of 2007, total sales for 2008 will be only modestly higher than 2007," Yun said.
The PHSI in the Northeast jumped 16.0 percent in October to 80.6 but is 11.1 percent below a year ago. In the West, the index rose 8.4 percent to 87.3 but is 16.9 percent lower than October 2006. The index in the Midwest slipped 1.4 percent in October to 85.5 and is 11.7 percent below a year ago. In the South, the index dropped 7.8 percent in October to 91.6 and is 25.3 percent below October 2006.
"The improvement in the Northeast reaffirms a trend apparent for some months now that shows signs of recovery, noteworthy because that was the first region to slump, and the gain in the West indicates some easing of interest rates for jumbo loans," Yun said. "Lawmakers need to understand that raising the loan limits on FHA and GSE-backed conventional loans will markedly improve mortgage availability."
Existing-home sales are likely to total 5.67 million this year, the fifth highest on record, rising to 5.70 million in 2008, in contrast with 6.48 million in 2006. Existing-home prices should be down 1.9 percent to a median of $217,600 for all of 2007, and then rise 0.3 percent to $218,300 in 2008.
"Home price growth in the vast affordable midsection of America will help raise the national median existing-home price slightly in 2008. I then expect price appreciation to return to more normal patterns in 2009, perhaps rising one or two percentage points above the rate of inflation," Yun said.
"Even with a modest decline in the national aggregate price this year, it's important to keep in mind that nearly two-thirds of the metro areas in the U.S. are showing price increases," he said. "The apparent disparity results from fewer sales in high-cost markets, so a change in the mix of sales is dragging down the national median home price."
New-home sales are forecast at 788,000 this year and 693,000 in 2008, down from 1.05 million 2006; no sustained improvement is seen for new homes until 2009. Because builders have correctly adjusted production, housing starts, including multifamily units, will probably total 1.36 million this year and 1.16 million in 2008, down from 1.80 million last year. The median new-home price is projected to drop 3.0 percent to $239,100 for 2007, and then decline another 0.2 percent to $236,600 in 2008.