Making sense of real estate market indicators

home sales statsIt used to be easy to figure out the strength of the real estate market, all you had to do was look at reported housing indices and it all made sense. Statistics were often verified and corresponded to other indices as well. However, since the financial crisis, there seems to be a disconnect between national and local housing indicators; gauging the market has become confusing – understanding what the indices measure and imply is often tricky.

Obviously, the best gauge to the health of the housing market is measuring existing home sales. Existing home sales is reported nationally and locally. The figure is important because it is a direct measure of the number (volume) of home sales during a given time period (usually monthly). National sales figures are often samples of MLS data, while local data are actual (raw) numbers. The statistic is used to chart annual sales trends; as well as a relative comparison to the same period during previous years.

Some have talked about the strength of luxury home sales as an indicator of the housing market. However, during a weak economy is weak, mid and low tier home sales tend to decrease; while upper bracket and luxury sales remain relatively strong. This bifurcation, where two distinct markets are derived from one, has emerged twice since the financial crisis; most recently earlier this year.

The National Association of Realtors® reports the Pending Home Sale Index, which is basically the number of homes that go under contract (pending sale) during a specific period. Pending sales are sometimes called a “forward looking” statistic because it is used to estimate how many homes will have sold for the year. Local pending sales are reported as a raw number of homes under contract. The statistic can be misleading because contracts fall apart for a number of reasons and may be one explanation as to why pending sales and existing sales may not correspond. Although the figure is not always indicative of actual sales, the figure is important because it reveals home buyer activity.

Another statistic relied on by many to determine the strength of the housing market are the home price indices (yes there is more than one). There are a number of national home price indices, and each has their own discrete methodology of measuring home sale prices. Some indices collect MLS data samples, while others use reported mortgage data. Average home sale prices help determine affordability, which can be an indication of buyers’ potential ability to purchase a home.

Some analysts talk about mortgage interest rates for much of the same reason one might follow home sale prices – to project home buyer affordability. The rationale is that the lower the interest the more affordable homes are and increase buyer activity.

Analysts also use new homes statistics to describe the strength of the real estate market. Included in this subset of housing data are new home sales and new home starts. New home starts is typically derived from the number of permits filed to build homes. Besides being a forward looking projection of new homes sales, economists follow new home starts figures closely because it can project construction employment as well.

Housing indices can be inconsistent. And while positive statistics may be reported nationally, it doesn’t necessarily correspond to the local market. Your real estate agent can provide insight to local sales trends and expected projections.

© Dan Krell

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

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