The National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) March 20th news release reported that February home sales remained subdued because of rising home prices and severe winter weather. The decline in existing home sales was just 0.4% from January, but was 7.1% lower than last February’s figures. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun stated that home sales declines were due to “weather disruptions, limited inventory, increasingly restrictive mortgage underwriting, and decreasing housing affordability.” And although it may sound bad, Yun actually has a rosy outlook saying, “…Some transactions are simply being delayed, so there should be some improvement in the months ahead. With an expected pickup in job creation, home sales should trend up modestly over the course of the year.”
So, if a snow filled and cold February is to blame for poor home sales, was Snowmagedden and Snowzilla the reason for increased home sales during February 2010? Of course not. And although home sales increased 5.1% year-over-year here in Montgomery County MD during February 2010, it was mostly due to increased home buyer demand that some speculate was due in part to the availability of first time home buyer tax credits. Additionally, RealtorMag reported that Southern California December home sales dropped about 21% month-over-month, and were down about 9% in compared to the same period in 2012.
As home sales are trending lower, it’s reasonable to look for reasons why demand is soft; but can weather be the main reason to keep potential home buyers at home? Probably not. Consumer demand is a robust force that is multifaceted, and can even prevail over seemingly difficult circumstances. Consumer demand can even trump weather, as was the case during the winter of 2010.
Consumer demand can even be resilient in the face of the speculative effects of global warming. A November 2013 RealtyToday article (The Looming Global Warming Catastrophe and its Effect on Real Estate; realtytoday.com) discusses how home buyer demand for coastal property has remained strong even as increased claims that climate change will make these areas uninhabitable.
Housing data cause and effect is only conjecture unless it is directly observed. To make sense of the “data-porn” that is excessively presented in the media, often without proper or erroneous explanation; economic writer Ben Casselman offers three rules to figure out what the media is saying (Three Rules to Make Sure Economic Data Aren’t Bunk; fivethirtyeight.com): Question the data; Know what is measured; and Look outside the data. Casselman states, “The first two rules have to do with questioning the numbers — what they’re measuring, how they’re measuring it, and how reliable those measurements are. But when a claim passes both those tests, it’s worth looking beyond the data for confirmation.”
Keeping these rules in mind, could the winter slowdown be the result of cold weather, or is it something else? Sure, cold weather may have marginal effects on home buyer behavior and demand; however, weather does not typically affect extended periods of consumer behavior unless weather events are catastrophic. The current data may be indicative of a housing market that is returning to the distinct seasonal activity that we have been used to for many years prior to the “go-go” market and subsequent recovery years.
However, other factors referenced by Dr. Yun, such as increased home prices and tougher mortgage standards, are more likely to be the reasons for subdued home sales. And as the year progresses, these factors may emerge to be significant issues for home buyers.
by Dan Krell
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