The National Association of Realtors (NAR) Friday morning released its data on pending sales of existing homes in January. The pending home sales index rose a tiny 0.1% from an upwardly revised index reading of 94.9 in December to the January reading of 95. That is 9% lower than in January 2013 when the index reading was 104.4. The consensus estimate called for a month-over-month increase of 2.7% in pending sales. The index reflects signed contracts, not sales closings. An index reading of 100 equals the average level of contract signings during 2001.
The small increase in January sales does not show much improvement from December, when the index was at lower than at any time since November 2011, when the reading was 94.6.
Total existing home sales are expected to be just over 5 million, slightly below the 2013 total of 5.1 million. National median home prices are forecast to rise by about 5% to 6% this year, but existing-home inventory levels need to increase to help keep prices in check. The median price forecast is slightly higher than last month's forecast.
The NAR's chief economist noted:
Ongoing disruptive weather patterns in much of the U.S. inhibited home shopping. Limited inventory also is playing a role, especially in the West, while credit remains tight and affordability isn’t as favorable as it was a year ago. Increasing new home construction can quickly solve two problems, producing more inventory and taming price growth.
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Pending home sales in the Northeast U.S. rose 2.3% in January, posting an index reading of 79, down 5.3% from January 2013. The index slipped 2.5% in the Midwest and rose 3.5% in the South. The index declined by 4.8% in the West and is down 17.6% compared with January a year ago.