Sales of new homes fell 7.3% in December to a seasonally adjusted rate of 369,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. But the government agency did revise November sales up 22,000 to a pace of 398,000 sales, which was the highest level of sales since April 2010. And, the $3,000-plus rise in the median prices of new homes sales was also a positive sign for the improving housing market.
Earlier this week, the National Association of Realtors reported the annual price for existing homes jumped to the highest level since 2005. The median price for all existing housing types was $180,800 in December. That's 11.5% more than the same period in 2011.
“I think we’re off the bottom in a number of states, particularly the sand states like Arizona and California,” Chris Whalen tells The Daily Ticker. Whalen is executive vice president of Carrington Investment Services, a Connecticut-based firm that works in residential mortgage special servicing and origination. “And you’re seeing a lot of investors in the market, which is helping prices go up.”
While investors may be driving these types of price moves, they may not be the key to keep prices moving up.
“The key issue is the extent to which we can get homeowners to get financing and go out and buy homes, because that is what will make these price increases sustainable and real,” says Whalen.
Whalen argues jobs are the driver of housing, and unemployment may not be low enough and wage growth may not be high enough to drive this kind of homeowner demand. The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 7.8%. Meanwhile, economic growth is bumpy with U.S. GDP posting low single digit growth.
Another roadblock to prospective homebuyers are the new consumers protections. Whalen says new mortgage rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may require fully documented loans, which is a good thing. But he notes certain consumers may not be able to qualify for a mortgage with a government guarantee.
The new regulations could also impact the big banks which had a blockbuster last quarter due to a boost from housing. The Washington Post reports mortgage activity accounted for 15% of the profits at Wells Fargo (WFC). Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) saw a 33% jump in mortgage originations, and Bank of America (BAC) posted a 41% increase in loan originations.
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