Monday, December 28, 2015

Question #10 for 2016: How much will housing inventory increase in 2016?

by Bill McBride on 12/28/2015 12:31:00 PM

Yesterday I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2016. I'll try to add some thoughts, and maybe some predictions for each question.

Here is a review of the Ten Economic Questions for 2015.

10) Housing Inventory: Housing inventory bottomed in early 2013.  However, after slight increases in 2013 and 2014, inventory was down slightly year-over-year in 2015 (through November).  Will inventory increase or decrease in 2016?

Tracking housing inventory is very helpful in understanding the housing market.  The plunge in inventory in 2011 helped me call the bottom for house prices in early 2012 (The Housing Bottom is Here).  And the increase in inventory in late 2005 (see first graph below) helped me call the top for house prices in 2006.

This graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes through November 2015.

Existing Home Inventory Click on graph for larger image.

According to the NAR, inventory decreased to 2.04 million in November from 2.08 million in November 2014, and up from 1.99 million in November 2012.  A small increase over the last three years.

Inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and usually inventory decreases from the seasonal high in mid-summer to the seasonal lows in December and January as sellers take their homes off the market for the holidays.

Year-over-year Inventory The second graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory.

Inventory decreased 1.9% year-over-year in November from November 2014 (blue line).  Note that the blue line (year-over-year change) turned slightly positive in 2013, but has been slightly negative for the 2nd half of 2015.

The NAR numbers are the usual measure of inventory.  However Zillow also has some inventory data (by state, city, zip code and more here).   We have to be careful using the Zillow data because the coverage is probably increasing, but looking at the state level data, it appears inventory is down about 7% year-over-year.  This ranges from a sharp year-over-year decrease in some states (like Utah) to a sharp increase in other areas (like North Dakota).   Some cities, like Houston, are seeing a sharp increase in inventory due to lower oil prices.  Real estate is local!

There are several reasons for the low inventory.  Because of low inventory, potential sellers are concerned they will not be able to find a home to buy - so they do not list their home. Another reason for low inventory is that some homeowners are still "underwater" on their mortgages and can't sell.  However negative equity is becoming less of a problem.  Also some potential sellers haven't built up enough equity to sell and have a down payment for a new purchase.

Over time, as the market moves back to normal, it seems homeowners will sell for the usual reasons (changing jobs, kids, etc).

Right now my guess is active inventory will increase in 2016 (inventory will decline seasonally in December and January, but I expect to see inventory up again year-over-year in 2016). I don't expect a double digit surge in inventory, but maybe a mid-single digit increase year-over-year.  If correct, this will keep house price increases down in  2015 (probably lower than the 5% or so gains in 2014 and 2015).

Here are the Ten Economic Questions for 2016 and a few predictions:

Question #1 for 2016: How much will the economy grow in 2016?
Question #2 for 2016: How many payroll jobs will be added in 2016?
Question #3 for 2016: What will the unemployment rate be in December 2016?
Question #4 for 2016: Will the core inflation rate rise in 2016? Will too much inflation be a concern in 2016?
Question #5 for 2016: Will the Fed raise rates in 2016, and if so, by how much?
Question #6 for 2016: Will real wages increase in 2016?
Question #7 for 2016: What about oil prices in 2016?
Question #8 for 2016: How much will Residential Investment increase?
Question #9 for 2016: What will happen with house prices in 2016?
Question #10 for 2016: How much will housing inventory increase in 2016?