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Pending Home Sales Slip due to Limited Buyer Choices

February pending home sales flattened with limited buyer choices, but remained at the second highest level in nearly three years according to research.

The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, slipped 0.4 percent to 104.8 in February from a downwardly revised 105.2 in January, but is 8.4 percent higher than February 2012 when it was 96.6. Contract activity has been above year-ago levels for the past 22 months; the data reflect contracts but not closings.

 

Before January, the last time the index showed a higher reading was in April 2010 when it was 110.9, shortly before the deadline for the home buyer tax credit.

The PHSI in the Northeast declined 2.5 percent to 82.8 in February but is 6.8 percent above February 2012. In the Midwest the index rose 0.4 percent to 103.6 in February and is 13.2 percent higher than a year ago. Pending home sales in the South slipped 0.3 percent to an index of 118.8 in February but are 12.1 percent above February 2012. In the West the index increased 0.1 percent in February to 101.4 but is 0.8 percent below a year ago.

Projections indicate existing-home sales to rise about 7 percent in 2013 to approximately 5 million sales, which is near the current level of activity. 

The national median existing-home price is forecast to rise nearly 7 percent this year, while mortgage interest rates should remain historically low, but trend up slowly and reach 4 percent in the fourth quarter.

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* The Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes. A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed, though the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing.

The index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.

An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined. By coincidence, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell within the range of 5.0 to 5.5 million, which is considered normal for the current U.S. population.

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