by NAR Research economists Danielle Hale and Hua Zhong
Home sales vary in (mostly) predictable patterns based on the month of the year and the days of the week in each month. Find out what data is the best estimate of real trends and not noise in the housing market in this article.
With the January Existing Home Sales data release, NAR Research released revised seasonal adjusted annual rate (SAAR) data for the last 3 years because we re-estimate and forecast new seasonal adjustment factors. Seasonal adjustment factors are used to try to extract a meaningful trend from the noisy home sales data that has mostly predictable big seasonal moves.
Imagine the headlines: “Home sales plummet 20 to 30 percent in January from December!” followed by “A recovery of 20 to 40 percent in home sales from February to March!” Those would have been the stories every year for the last decade if home sales data were not seasonally adjusted. But how helpful would that information have been for figuring out what was going on in the housing market?
In this article, we present answers to commonly asked questions (particularly from Wall Street analysts and journalists) on seasonality in housing data and a brief discussion of why seasonal factors don’t line up from year to year.
Whither the Weather
The weather is getting a lot of attention for driving the pending results in December. But how do we know that the weather was responsible for the slip in contract signings as opposed to other market forces? Is there a way to measure the weather and its impact on the home purchase process? The answer is yes, there are tools to help measure weather’s impact. In this article we’ll look at how weather can impede the home buying process, measures of the weather in recent months, and look ahead to how meaningful December’s data are for determining the future housing market trends. While the December pending home sales figures signal notably weaker home sales figures in January and February, the next few months of data will be better indicators of the 2014 housing market.
- In 2012, there were more than 71 million young adults aged 18 to 34 living in the US—more than the roughly 69 million when the baby-boomers were in this age group in the mid-1980s.
- The share of adults under age 35 living at home, especially among those aged 25 to 34, is at the highest level since 1981. More than 30 percent of those 18 to 34 lived with parents ; the historical average is 28 percent.
- The share was 13.6 percent among those aged 25 to 34. The historical average for this group is only 11.7 percent. While a 2 percent difference sounds like a small amount, this translates into roughly 800,000 individuals.
- The share among those aged 18 to 24 was 56.2 percent compared to a 52.9 percent long term average. This translates into roughly 1 million individuals.
- At the same time, nearly 26 million households were headed by those under age 35. This group has a homeownership rate that has declined dramatically from its peak of over 43 percent in 2004 and 2005. In 2012 the homeownership rate was roughly 37 percent—the lowest level since publication of this data in the early 1980s. Continue reading »
Mortgage rates will continue to rise. They will probably be near 5 percent by this time next year, compared to the 3.5 percent average of the past 12 months. The rates will be even higher in 2015 and 2016. Certainly, rising rates are bad news for buyers and some potential homebuyers will be pushed out of the market. For example, the number of renter households that have sufficient income to buy a $177,000 home at a 3.5 percent mortgage rate is 17.8 million. The number drops to 14.9 million at a 5.0 percent mortgage rate, which is a decline in percentage terms of 16 percent.
But there is one major compensating factor that can easily neutralize the negative impact of rising rates. As REALTORS® well know, there are many good potential buyers who have been denied a mortgage that in past normal years would have easily qualified. The comparison is with normal years and not the bubble years of no standards whatsoever. The Federal Reserve has also often commented about the excessively tight underwriting standards in today’s mortgage market. At the same time, banks have been reporting a strong profit growth from mortgage originations due to exceptionally low default rates on recently originated mortgages, particularly since 2010. Such well-performing recent mortgages should not be surprising since defaults do not happen in an environment with rising home prices. It appears then more loan originations, at least at the margin, will bring more profits for the lenders and correspondingly bring more buyers out into the marketplace. My estimation says there would be an additional 15 to 20 percent more homebuyers who qualify by returning to normal underwriting standards from the current very tight conditions. The table below shows the average credit score of those who obtained mortgage approvals in recent years. The credit scores are much higher now than in past normal times. So, for example, someone with a credit score of 730 would have had no trouble obtaining a Fannie-backed mortgage in the past, but is currently getting denied today.
There are other factors that can also help alleviate the rising interest rate conditions. The economy is adding jobs. A total of 2 million net new jobs were added in the past 12 months and another 2 million new ones are likely over the next 12 months. More jobs always lead to more home sales as long as rates do not spike.
Furthermore, there could be room for a reduction in fees associated with obtaining government-backed mortgages. The high profits generated by Fannie and Freddie in recent quarters are implying excessive add-on fees charged to consumers by these two effectively government agencies. A pure for-profit company should have the right to innovate and earn any profit it can obtain as long as there are no barriers to entry into the business. But Fannie and Freddie, as we have learned, are not and should not be for-profit entities. They got into a mess because of the hyper-gambling mindset of “heads we win and tails taxpayers lose”. Fannie and Freddie need to stick to the simple business plan of guaranteeing soundly underwritten, mostly boring 30-year mortgages, as they are currently doing. These simple 30-year fixed rate mortgages served our grandparents well and they subsequently will serve our grandkids well. No major innovation is required, which is the reason why being an effectively government agency can work fine. (We should, however, never trust the government to come up with an innovative product. Today’s iPhone and similar competitive products are worlds apart from the phones that our grandparents used.) The point is that Fannie and Freddie are making good profits now. They should first speedily repay the taxpayer bailout money. But afterwards, excess profits only mean excessive consumers fees. So a reduction in fees in the near future should occur, just in time to help offset the higher mortgage rate environment.
Home buyers have emerged and home sales have been pushed higher. Existing home sales rose by 9 percent in 2012 and are higher still by another 9 percent in 2013 year-to-date. New home sales – always the more cyclical figure – increased 20 percent in 2012 and are up 5 percent in 2013 year-to-date. Many REALTORS® have indicated that sales transactions would be even higher if there were a greater inventory of homes.
While buying activity remains solidly higher, the nation’s homeownership rate continues to trend down. The latest homeownership rate of 65.0 percent in the first quarter of this year is the lowest since 1995. More home sales yet falling homeownership rate: what’s going on? Could it be the investors are eating up everything in sight?