Monday, April 16, 2012

Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in March

by Bill McBride on 4/16/2012 04:59:00 PM

CR Note: Some interesting comments from Tom Lawler ...

From economist Tom Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in March: Not Much Change (SAAR) from February, but Aggregate Numbers Miss Strengthening Market

While I’m missing reports from several key markets, my current estimate based on regional tracking is that US existing home sales as estimated by the National Association of Realtors ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million in March, unchanged from February’s pace, and up 7.7% from last March’s seasonally adjusted pace. While the “flattish” sales in March relative to February (on a SAAR basis) might seem surprising to some given various anecdotal stories of strengthening markets, the “flat” reading does NOT negate the validity of many of these reports. Rather, a major reason for the “disappointing” sales readings for March (and February) relative to a year ago is the substantial decline in REO/foreclosure sales, which to a large extent is the result of sharply lower REO properties for sale.

Consider, e.g., sales reports from the Vegas, Phoenix, Sacramento, Minneapolis, Mid-Atlantic, and Orlando markets broken out by short sales, foreclosure sales, and “non-distressed” sales, shown on the table below.

MLS-Reported Home Sales
Mar-12Mar-11% chg
Short Sales2275189919.8%
Bank-Owned Sales18724576-59.1%
Non-Distressed Sales4722345836.6%
Las VegasTotal438643161.6%
Short Sales1167101914.5%
Bank-Owned Sales17862054-13.0%
Non-Distressed Sales1433124315.3%
Short Sales63842749.4%
Bank-Owned Sales570927-38.5%
Non-Distressed Sales75056033.9%
Short Sales10401057-1.6%
Bank-Owned Sales11622123-45.3%
Non-Distressed Sales5700487916.8%
Short Sales4384175.0%
Bank-Owned Sales12961497-13.4%
Non-Distressed Sales1789134333.2%
Short Sales7687620.8%
Bank-Owned Sales5931215-51.2%
Non-Distressed Sales96663651.9%

Note that all of the above markets, save for Vegas, saw this March’s home sales come in below last March’s (and by more than the one-fewer-business day would have implied for a “flat” seasonally adjusted reading), and Vegas’ YOY gain was only 1.6%. Yet ALL of these markets saw double-digit YOY gains in non-distressed sales. For all of these markets combined, total home sales were down (YOY) by 4.1%; short sales were up 13.3%; foreclosure sales were down 41.3%; and non-distressed sales were up 26.7%.

Of course, the surge in “non-distressed” sales overstates the overall strength of many of these markets – folks, especially looking for a home to live in, who last year might have purchased a “distressed” home found the available inventory smaller and unattractive, and instead purchased a “non-distressed” home.

Still, the increase in “non-distressed” sales is an encouraging sign.

Below are a few other reports from associations/MLS that either only report “distressed” vs. “non-distressed,” or in Memphis’ case only report bank-owned vs. non-bank-owned sales (the Memphis report is based on property records, not MLS sales).

Mar-12Mar-11% Chg
Northeast FloridaTotal14191529-7.2%
Distressed Sales567857-33.8%
Non-Distressed Sales85267226.8%
Hampton RoadsTotal15471605-3.6%
Distressed Sales519695-25.3%
Non-Distressed Sales102891013.0%
Memphis (Existing)Total1229101421.2%
Bank-Owned Sales3933774.2%
Non-Bank Sales83663731.2%

Flipping back to estimates for the NAR EHS release, a decent number of associations/MLS (though by no means all) reported a monthly increase in listings for March, and “seasonally” listings typically increase significantly. Translating local data into NAR inventory estimates, however, is “tricky;” e.g., the NAR’s existing home inventory estimate in February was up 4.3% from January, WAY above what any inventory tracker would have “guessed” (NAR showed a monthly jump in the inventory of existing condos for sale in February of 27.3%!) I can’t tell ya why, but rather than trying to foot to the monthly changes regardless of past monthly “discrepancies,” I’m going with a YOY estimate based on tracking, which would suggest a YOY inventory drop of about 20.5%, and would imply a very slight monthly decline relative to February (though I expect February to be revised down).

Finally, on the median sales price side a much higher % of realtor associations/MLS reported YOY increases in median sales prices in March relative to any period since 2010, in many (but not all) cases likely because of the significant drop in the foreclosure share of home sales. Net, I expect that the NAR median existing SF home sales price in March will be 3.0 to 3.5% above last March’s MSP.

As always, of course, median sales prices are heavily influenced by the mix of sales – and by that I don’t mean just “distressed” vs. “non-distressed” – and one can’t really “translate” median sales price changes to changes in repeat-transactions home price indexes. By the same token, however, repeat-transactions HPIs that include all distressed sales do appear to be affected by the distressed sales share of home sales, and as such these HPIs should show a CONSIDERABLE YOY improvement using March transactions. In addition, in some markets there does appear to be overall home price improvement gains. As such, there is a pretty decent chance that many widely followed HPIs may show YOY gains. Of course, the most widely watched monthly HPIs – S&P/Case-Shiller – is really a 3-month moving average HPI, and as such one wouldn’t expect to see a YOY gain in the March report. But the April or May report just might!

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