NAR Stumped As Existing Home Sales Slide Continues; Lack Of Household Income Growth Blamed

fter last month's unexpected, dramatic 3.4% drop, and 1.64% Y/Y decline - the first annual decline since November 2015 - the weakness in exiting home sales continued today, when the NAR reported that in July sales of existing homes dropped another -0.9% from a downward revised 5.38MM to 5.33MM, missing expectations of a rebound to 5.45 million.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.33 million in August from a downwardly revised 5.38 million in July. After last month's decline, sales are at their second-lowest pace of 2016, but are still slightly higher (0.8 percent) than a year ago (5.29 million).

As the NAR reported, existing-home sales eased up in August for the second consecutive month despite mortgage rates near record lows as higher home prices and not enough inventory for sale kept some would-be buyers at bay. Only the Northeast region saw a monthly increase in closings in August, where inventory is currently more adequate. Some of the key details from the report: 4.6 months supply in Aug. vs. 4.7 in July. Inventory fell 3.3% to 2.04m homes. First time buyers comprised 31% of total sales; all cash were 22%; investors represented 13% while distressed sales were 5% of total sales

Even the traditionally cheerful Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, was perplexed and said that recent job growth is not yielding higher home sales. "Healthy labor markets in most the country should be creating a sustained demand for home purchases," he said. "However, there's no question that after peaking in June, sales in a majority of the country have inched backwards because inventory isn't picking up to tame price growth and replace what's being quickly sold."

Added Yun, "Hopes of a meaningful sales breakthrough as a result of this summer's historically low mortgage rates failed to materialize because supply and affordability restrictions continue to keep too many would-be buyers on the sidelines."

The median existing-home price for all housing types in August was $240,200, up 5.1% from August 2015 ($228,500). August's price increase marks the 54th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

Furthermore, with new home builders focusing on rental properties, total housing inventory at the end of August fell 3.3 percent to 2.04 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 10.1 percent lower than a year ago (2.27 million) and has declined year-over-year for 15 straight months. Unsold inventory is at a 4.6-month supply at the current sales pace, which is down from 4.7 months in July.

The share of first-time buyers was 31 percent in August, which is down from 32 percent both in July and a year ago. First-time buyers represented 30 percent of sales in all of 2015.

What was more ironic is that not even the NAR is able to reconcile the recent political propaganda about "soaring" household income with muted homebuying activity:

"It's very concerning to see that inventory conditions not only show no signs of improving but have actually worsened in recent months from their already suppressed levels a year ago," said the NAr's Larry Yun. "While recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that household incomes rose strongly last year, home prices are still outpacing incomes in many metro areas because of the persistent shortage of new and existing homes for sale. Without more supply, the U.S. homeownership rate will remain near 50-year lows."

Properties typically stayed on the market for 36 days in August, unchanged from July and down considerably from a year ago (47 days). Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 144 days in August, while foreclosures sold in 42 days and non-distressed homes took 35 days. Forty-six percent of homes sold in August were on the market for less than a month.

NAR President Tom Salomone, broker-owner of Real Estate II Inc. in Coral Springs, Florida, says in today's fast-moving market, a Realtor® who knows about down payment options4 and their target area is essential to a successful buying experience. "Given the inventory shortages in most markets, new listings at affordable prices are receiving multiple offers and going under contract almost immediately upon becoming available," he said. "Home shoppers serious about buying need to be ready with a pre-approval. This allows a Realtor® to hone in only on homes within the buyer's price range and ensures any offer presented to the seller is taken seriously."

The regional breakdown:

  • August existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 6.1 percent to an annual rate of 700,000, which is unchanged from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $274,100, which is 0.8 percent above August 2015.
  • In the Midwest, existing-home sales decreased 0.8 percent to an annual rate of 1.27 million in August, but are still 0.8 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $190,700, up 5.5 percent from a year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the South in August fell 2.7 percent to an annual rate of 2.16 million, but are still 0.9 percent above August 2015. The median price in the South was $209,700, up 6.7 percent from a year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the West lessened 1.6 percent to an annual rate of 1.20 million in August, but are still 0.8 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the West was $347,400, which is 9.2 percent above August 2015.

Alas, with the Fed only targeting the stock market now, it is unlikely that this trend will change any time soon.