There’s no doubt that 2016 was an outstanding year for real estate and the housing market. In fact, National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun was reported to say in a January NAR press release (www.nar.realtor) that the 2016 housing market was the best since the Great Recession. There were 5.45 million total existing home sales in 2016, which exceeded 5.25 million during 2015.
Home prices also surged during 2016. A February 28th S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index press release (spindices.com) indicated a 30-month index high, increasing 5.8 percent during December. The Seattle, Portland and Denver regions were at the top during this period, posting gains of 10.8 percent, 10.0 percent and 8.9 percent respectively (the Washington DC region gained a respectable 4.2 percent).
Of course, the record year was nowhere near the peak market pace of 6.48 million existing home sales during 2006. However, the economics of the market during that time was different; being influenced by outside forces such as uber-easy money policies and overzealous speculation in the housing market.
The peak market sales records may be a benchmark of a sort. But in retrospect, those numbers are a reflection of a distorted market where speculators bought and sold homes in record numbers taking advantage of the easy money and a seemingly guaranteed big money payoff (which was a factor in the steep home appreciation spike at that time). It was a crazy time for housing, when homes were flipped in a matter of days. Many investors were even making money on homes they never owned by selling their interest in their purchase contracts. The result was that home buyers found themselves either priced out of the market, or borrowing more than they could realistically afford because of the fierce buyer competition.
After posting impressive housing stats for 2016, the expectations for 2017 are high. And not surprisingly home sales started the year on the same pace, as the NAR reported January’s existing home sales (homes that settled during January) increased 3.3 percent. However, the pending home sale index (homes under contract and described by NAR as a forward looking number) showed a different picture with 2.8 percent decrease during January. Of course in the absence of bad weather, some economists explain that the decrease in pending home sales are due to low inventory and rising interest rates.
Some are concerned about the decreased prospects of future home sales, suggesting that there won’t be a repeat performance of record home sales during 2017. The recent pending home sale index release is reminiscent of the index reported for January 2014, where the NAR reported that the pending home sale index dropped 9 percent following post-recession record year of home sales during 2013. At the end of 2014, it was revealed that existing home sales dropped 3 percent from the previous year. Reasons given for the decrease were low inventory and tight lending.
Many, like myself, remain optimistic because interest rates remain historically low, even with recent rate hikes; and mortgage lending has been the easiest since the financial crisis. The sentiment is also shared by consumers; who conveyed increased optimism about the housing market in Fannie Mae’s 2017 Home Purchase Sentiment Index (HPSI). The February 17th News release (fanniemae.com) indicated that the January’s HPSI increased 2 percent, which is 1.2 percent higher than the same time last year.
Dan Krell is a Realtor® with RE/MAX All Pro in Rockville, MD. You can access more information at www.DanKrell.com.