Thursday, February 24, 2011

Home Sales: Distressing Gap

by Bill McBride on 2/24/2011 12:41:00 PM

Note: The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is working on a benchmark revision for existing home sales numbers. As I noted in January, this benchmarking is expected to result in significant downward revisions to sales estimates for the last few years - perhaps as much as 10% to 15% for 2009 and 2010. Even with these revisions, most of the following "distressing gap" will remain.

This graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through January. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship has been fairly steady back to the '60s. Then along came the housing bubble and bust, and the "distressing gap" appeared (due mostly to distressed sales).

Distressing Gap Click on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

Initially the gap was caused by the flood of distressed sales. This kept existing home sales elevated, and depressed new home sales since builders couldn't compete with the low prices of all the foreclosed properties.

The two spikes in existing home sales were due primarily to the homebuyer tax credits (the initial credit in 2009, followed by the 2nd credit in 2010). There were also two smaller bumps for new home sales related to the tax credits. The recent increase in existing home sales (before downward revisions) appears to be due to a combination of lower prices and investors buying low end properties.

Note: it is important to note that existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

In a few years - when the excess housing inventory is absorbed and the number of distressed sales has declined significantly - I expect existing home-to-new home sales to return to something close to this historical relationship.

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