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Pending home sales drop as expected

July 1, 2010

WASHINGTON – July 1, 2010 – Following a surge driven by the homebuyer tax credit, pending home sales fell, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). To qualify for the credit, homebuyers needed a signed contract by April 30, 2010.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator, dropped 30.0 percent to 77.6 based on contracts signed in May from a reading of 110.9 in April, and is 15.9 percent below May 2009 when it was 92.3. The falloff comes on the heels of three strong monthly gains as homebuyers rushed to take advantage of the tax credit.

The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months. However, many closings have been delayed recently from a rush of buyers into the system and slow processing of short sales, in addition to the heavy volume and a more thorough loan underwriting process.

“Consumers are rational and they rushed to meet the (April 30) tax credit eligibility deadline in April,” says NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “The sharp decline in contract signings in May is a natural result with similar low levels of sales activity anticipated in June. Surprisingly, though, some local markets such as Portland, Maine, and Jacksonville, Fla., actually experienced an increase in contract signings from a year ago without the tax credit.

“Existing-home sales that close in June will remain elevated, but we’ll then see a notable decline for July and August.”

A lapse in the National Flood Insurance Program also contributed to the decline in new contracts. Many lenders were hesitant to approve mortgages on homes that require flood insurance without congressional action, and numerous sales have been on hold.

Yun noted that the tax credit broadly stabilized home prices. “Without the tax credit, there will be more aggressive price negotiations between buyers and sellers,” he says. “The key test on whether the housing market can stand on its own without stimulus medicine will depend critically on private sector job creation in the second half of the year. We’ll also keep a close eye on market conditions on the Gulf Coast.”

Through May of this year, 495,000 net private sector jobs have been created; NAR’s forecast for employment growth is about 1 million additional net new jobs over the balance of the year and another 2 million in 2011.

“If jobs come back as expected, the pace of home sales should pick up later this year and reach a sustainable level of activity given very favorable affordability conditions,” Yun said.

“In most areas of the country there will be no sharp snap back in home prices in the upcoming years, although some local markets have experienced double-digit gains this year,” Yun said. NAR forecasts the national median home price to rise only 4 percent cumulatively over the next two years.

“One factor that could lead to price acceleration in upcoming years for some markets is if the very low levels of new home construction were to persist for another year or two,” he added.

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 31.6 percent to 67.0 in May and is 14.8 percent lower than May 2009. In the Midwest the index dropped 32.1 percent to 70.8 and is 20.2 percent below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South fell 33.3 percent to an index of 82.5, and are 14.4 percent lower than May 2009. In the West the index declined 20.9 percent to 85.3 and is 15.1 percent below a year ago.

Reprinted with permission. Florida Realtors®. All rights reserved.

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