Thursday, February 21, 2013

Existing Home Sales: Conventional Sales up Sharply

by Bill McBride on 2/21/2013 04:15:00 PM

The NAR reported total sales were up 9.1% from January 2012, but conventional sales are probably up closer to 20% (or more) from January 2012, and distressed sales down.  The NAR reported (from a survey):

Distressed homes - foreclosures and short sales - accounted for 23 percent of January sales, down from 24 percent in December and 35 percent in January 2012.
Although this survey isn't perfect, if total sales were up 9.1% from January 2012, and distressed sales declined from 35% of total sales to 23%, this suggests conventional sales were up sharply year-over-year - a good sign.

And what matters the most in the NAR's existing home sales report is inventory. It is active inventory that impacts prices (although the "shadow" inventory could come on the market and keep prices from rising). For existing home sales, look at inventory first and then at the percent of conventional sales.

The NAR reported inventory decreased to 1.74 million units in January, down from 1.83 million in December. This is down 25.3% from January 2012, and down 19% from the inventory level in January 2005 (mid-2005 was when inventory started increasing sharply). This is the lowest level of inventory since December 1999. 

Important: The NAR reports active listings, and although there is some variability across the country in what is considered active, most "contingent short sales" are not included. "Contingent short sales" are strange listings since the listings were frequently NEVER on the market (they were listed as contingent), and they hang around for a long time - they are probably more closely related to shadow inventory than active inventory. However when we compare inventory to 2005, we need to remember there were no "short sale contingent" listings in 2005. In the areas I track, the number of "short sale contingent" listings is also down sharply year-over-year.

Existing Home Inventory monthly Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows inventory for January since 2001. In 2005 inventory kept rising all year - and that was a clear sign that the housing bubble was ending.  Inventory was very high from 2006 through 2011, and started declining in 2012.

The months-of-supply has fallen to 4.2 months.  Since months-of-supply uses Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) inventory, and Seasonally Adjusted (SA) sales, I expect months-of-supply to stop declining in February.

The following graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).

Existing Home Sales NSASales NSA in January (black column) are  above the sales for for 2009 through 2012, but below the bubble years of 2005 and 2006. 

Note that January is usually the weakest month of the year and sales typically increase in March and peak in the summer.

Earlier:
Existing Home Sales in January: 4.92 million SAAR, 4.2 months of supply

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