The housing market in the U.S. may finally be cooling off.
Pending home sales, a leading indicator of the health of the housing market, declined for the fourth straight month. The National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Pending Home Sales Index, which tracks the number of homes that are under contract to be sold, fell 4.1% in February from January and dropped 5.4% from the same month a year ago. The results were disappointing as analysts predicted a 1.0% increase in sales from a month earlier, according to Bloomberg consensus estimates.
Contract signings were down in all four regions of the U.S. compared to the same time a year ago. Only the Northeast recorded an increase in activity from a month earlier.
“Pending transactions diminished in February mainly due to the low number of homes for sale,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a press statement. “Buyer demand is still intense, but it’s as simple as ‘one cannot buy what is not for sale.’”
Total housing inventory continues to remain depressed. At the end of February there were 870,000 units available for sale, up 2.4% from January and down 15.5% from one year ago, according to the NAR. Unsold inventory sits at a 1.7-month supply at the current sales pace, up from the record-low supply in January of 1.6 months and down from 2.0 months in February 2021.
The lack of inventory is driving home prices to record highs.
The median existing-home price for all housing types in February rose 15% to $357,300, up 15.0% from February 2021, as prices grew in each region. This marks 120 consecutive months of year-over-year increases, the longest-running streak on record.
“The number of homes for sale remains very low and continues to shrink from last year, keeping the pace of sales elevated. In turn, list prices re-accelerated after the reprieve experienced during fall 2021, reaching a new high of $392,000 in February,” said George Ratiu, manager of economic research for Realtor.com, in a press statement ahead of the results. “For buyers looking for a home, the higher price came at the same time as speeding inflation not only took more out of each paycheck, but also pushed mortgage rates higher.”
Mortgage interest rates have jumped more than a half-point in two weeks — the largest two-week jump since June 2009. The rate on the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage (the most common home loan) jumped to 4.42%, up from 4.16% a week ago, according to Freddie Mac.
“To be sure, with mortgage rates up over 100bps over the past year and now at their highest levels since 2019, housing activity should slow going forward,” Deutsche Bank analysts stated in a research note prior to the results.
As of February 2022, higher mortgage rates and sustained price appreciation has led to a year-over-year increase of 28% in mortgage payments, according to the NAR. Yun forecasts mortgage rates to be about 4.5% to 5% for the remainder of the year.
“The surge in home prices combined with rising mortgage rates can easily translate to another $200 to $300 in mortgage payments per month, which is a major strain for many families already on tight budgets,” he said. Yun forecasts mortgage rates to be about 4.5% to 5% for the remainder of the year and expects about a 7% reduction in home sales in 2022 compared to 2021.
Yun noted that homebuyers should try to lock in their mortgage interest rates now if they are shopping for a new home.
Amanda Fung is an editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @amandafung