Pending home sales jump 3.2%
Buyers defy expectations with an increase in sales contracts signed during March.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Is the housing meltdown ending?
Pending home sales rose in March for the second consecutive month and are up year over year. The Pending Home Sales Index from the National Association of Realtors showed a 3.2% gain to 84.6 from February, when it was 82. The index stands 1.6% higher than a year ago.
The consensus forecast of industry experts polled by Briefing.com had predicted no increase in the index.
It may still take a while before the market gains enough momentum to firmly state that the downturn has been reversed, according to Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. And, the upturn may have been boosted by the first-time homebuyers tax credit, a temporary measure that will lapse in December.
“We need several months of sustained growth to demonstrate a recovery in housing, which is necessary for the overall economy to turn around,” said Yun. “This increase could be the leading edge of first-time buyers responding to very favorable affordability conditions and an $8,000 tax credit, which increases buying power even more in areas where special programs allow buyers to use it as a down payment.”
The index is understood to be a forward indicator of home sales trends since it measures contracts signed, not completed sales. The up-tick may indicate that home prices have fallen low enough for buyers to get off the fence.
There’s been a big increase in buying power.
“Compared to a year ago, the typical family can pay much less in mortgage costs for the same home, or buy a better home without necessarily increasing their monthly payment,” said NAR President Charles McMillan, in a prepared statement. “For buyers who’ve been on the sidelines and have good jobs, the market has never looked more favorable.
The South saw the largest gain of any region, with pending home sales jumping 8.5%. Pending sales are 7.7% higher there compared with a year ago.
The Midwest gained 3.9% from February and 1.7% year-over-year. Northeast sales fell 5.7% and are off 24.1% compared with March 2008. The West dropped 1% for the month but are up 8.2% year-over-year.
Low home prices continued to help to drive sales, although NAR’s affordability index actually fell 2.3% from February, when it a historic high. This index is based on family income, home prices and mortgage rates