The numbers: The index of pending home sales fell 2.8% in January after four consecutive months of declines, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. The index captures real-estate transactions where a contract was signed but the sale has not yet closed, making it an indicator of where existing-home sales will go in the months ahead.
The median forecast of economists polled by MarketWatch had called for a 0.5% decline in pending sales on a monthly basis.
“Pending home sales fell in January because there are simply not enough homes to match the demand on the market,” Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said in the report. “That said, there has been an increase in permits and requests to build new homes.”
Compared to 2019, pending sales were up 13%, indicating that the housing market remains strong despite the weakness that has crept in during the winter months.
What happened: Pending sales didn’t fall across all regions, as contract signings increased slightly in the South. The largest decline in pending sales occurred in the West, where the index dropped 7.8%, closely followed by the Northeast (-7.4%).
The big picture: A record-low inventory of homes is leaving buyers with few options to choose from, and builders have even begun selling a vast array of properties that haven’t been built yet to meet this demand.
But there’s evidence that demand could begin to suffer as affordability concerns grow. “The timely weekly mortgage purchase applications index is signaling a slowing in activity,” said Rubeela Farooqi, the chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, while citing mortgage application data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The latest reading signified the lowest level for mortgage applications since mid-May of last year, Farooqi noted.
Some of the decline in the volume of mortgage applications was a reflection of the disruption in Texas caused by recent winter storms. But generally speaking, rising mortgage rates are reducing interest from home buyers to an extent. With prices also quickly rising, buying a home is becoming less and less affordable, which could hinder home sales in the months to come.
What they’re saying: “Home buyers are staying surprisingly active during the colder months. However, buyer demand is getting squeezed by a scarcity of ‘For Sale’ signs and rising mortgage rates,” said Realtor.com senior economist George Ratiu.