The Pending Home Sales Index declined 2.5% in November.
Economists, who are generally surprised by everything, were caught off guard once again.
Despite the fact that mortgage rates have been climbing for months, the economists' consensus expectation was for pending home sales to rise 0.5%. Not a single economist predicted a decline this month. The range of estimates was 0.3% to 2.0%.
Mortgage News Daily reports Pending Home Sales Reflect "Dispirited" Buyers.
Pending sales, which were widely expected to make a good showing in November, pulled back sharply instead. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) said its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contracts for existing home purchases, declined 2.5 percent to 107.3 in November from 110.0 in October. NAR said "the brisk upswing in mortgage rates and not enough inventory dispirited some would-be buyers." The decrease brought the PHSI to its lowest level since January of this year and it is now 0.4 percent below the index last November which stood at 107.7.
Analysts polled by Econoday had been upbeat about the November outlook. The consensus was for an increase of 0.5 percent with some analysts predicting as much as a 2.0 percent gain.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist said, "The budget of many prospective buyers last month was dealt an abrupt hit by the quick ascension of rates immediately after the election. Already faced with climbing home prices and minimal listings in the affordable price range, fewer home shoppers in most of the country were successfully able to sign a contract."
Only one of the four regions displayed any strength in November. Pending sales in the Northeast were up 0.6 percent to 97.5 and are 5.7 percent higher than in November 2015.
The Midwest saw contract signings decline 2.5 percent to 103.5, falling behind the previous November by 2.4 percent. Sales in the South were down 1.2 percent to an index of 118.7, this is 1.3 percent behind the level a year earlier. The West posted the largest loss, 6.7 percent, and a year-over-year drop of 1.0 percent.
Yun says higher borrowing costs somewhat cloud the outlook for the housing market in 2017. NAR's most recent HOME survey, found that renters have less confidence about the present being a good time to buy than they had at the beginning of the year. On the other hand, Yun says that the impact of higher rates will be partly neutralized by stronger wage growth because of the 2 million net new job additions expected next year.
The Pending Home Sales Index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. 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. Pending sales are generally expected to close within two months of contract signing.
The notion that strong wage growth and jobs will partially neutralize rising interest rates is silly. But Yun has a mission: Always be as positive as possible about housing.
Economists had a second reason to expect sales would decline: On December 16, I reported Housing Starts Dive 18.7 Percent: Mortgage Rates Soar.