Pending home sales rose in January, and have been above year-ago levels for the past 21 months, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). There were healthy monthly gains in all regions but the West, which is constrained by limited inventory, but was slightly improved. The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 4.5 percent to 105.9 in January from a downwardly revised 101.3 in December and is 9.5 percent above January 2012 when it was 96.7. The data reflect contracts but not closings.
The January index is the highest reading since April 2010 when it hit 110.9, just before the deadline for the home buyer tax credit. Aside from spikes induced by the tax credits, the last time there was a higher reading was in February 2007 when it reached 107.9.
“Favorable affordability conditions and job growth have unleashed a pent-up demand. Most areas are drawing down housing inventory, which has shifted the supply/demand balance to sellers in much of the country," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "It’s also why we’re experiencing the strongest price growth in more than seven years. Over the near term, rising contract activity means higher home sales, but total sales for the year are expected to rise less than in 2012, while home prices are projected to rise more strongly because of inventory shortages."
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 8.2 percent to 84.8 in January and is 10.5 percent higher than January 2012. In the Midwest the index increased 4.5 percent to 105.0 in January and is 17.7 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 5.9 percent to an index of 119.3 in January and are 11.3 percent higher January 2012. In the West the index edged up 0.1 percent in January to 102.1 but is 1.5 percent below a year ago.
Yun expects approximately five million existing-home sales this year. However, price growth could exceed a seven percent gain projected for 2013 if inventory supplies remain low. Previously, NAR had expected 5.1 million existing-home sales in 2013, while prices were forecast to rise 5.5 to six percent.