NAROFF ECONOMIC ADVISORS, Inc.
Joel L. Naroff
President and Chief Economist
INDICATOR: January Existing Home Sales
KEY DATA: Sales: +4.3%; 1-Family: +3.8%; Condo: 8.3%
IN A NUTSHELL: “Housing sales improved in January but the level is still quite low and a lot of the demand is for distressed homes.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The housing market is not being looked at as a major source of growth but it is a place that we would like to see some improvement. That is happening, though not at a great pace.
Existing home sales did rise solidly in January, but as the National Association of Realtors pointed out, a growing share of the sales were for distressed homes. Nearly a quarter of the homes sold went to investors. That is good as it shows that homes are being recycled into the rental market where demand is growing. But we really need regular buyers to come back at a robust pace if the sector is to get back to normal.
The changing demographics are helping power better condo sales. However, while demand for single-family dwelling was up over the January 2011 rate, it was down fairly sharply in the condo/coop segment. The supply of homes is tight, being roughly six months. Normally that would be a positive sign for the market.
If it is result of non-distressed homeowners being unwilling to sell their homes at the market price and the limited foreclosures, that isn’t an indication of a market that is getting ready to pick up speed. With the recent mortgage company settlement, look for supply of distressed homes to rise. That should keep prices soft. They were down about 2% over the year. Regionally, all parts of the nation showed gains but the biggest increase was in the West.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: While the housing market is slowly improving, there is little reason to think that the non-distressed segment of the market is poised to take off. Mortgages are still not easy to get, the appraisal process creates impediments to sales and is adding to the large number of failed contracts, equity is tight for many who would like to move and the decline in prices have caused a lot of homeowners to give up trying to sell their homes.
While this was a good report, the level of sales is still disappointing. Until the housing problems are resolved, which could take another three or more years in some regions, don’t expect sales or construction to pick up rapidly. That means construction job gains, which are finally added to payroll increases, should be okay but not a major source of new hiring.
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