Pleasanton Weekly

Real Estate - February 11, 2011

U.S. home sales continuing upward trend

Low interest rates, good affordability attract more sellers, buyers to market

by Jeb Bing

Pending home sales improved further in December, marking the fifth gain in the past six months, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The Pending Home Sales Index increased 2.0% to 93.7 based on contracts signed in December from a downwardly revised 91.9 in November. The index is 4.2% below the 97.8 mark in December 2009. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, credits good affordability conditions and economic improvement. "Modest gains in the labor market and the improving economy are creating a more favorable backdrop for buyers, allowing them to take advantage of excellent housing affordability conditions. Mortgage rates should rise only modestly in the months ahead, so we'll continue to see a favorable environment for buyers with good credit," he said.

"In the past two years, home buyers have been very successful, with super-low loan default rates, partly because of stable home prices during that time. That trend is likely to continue in 2011 as long as there is sufficient demand to absorb inventory," Yun said. "The latest pending sales gain suggests activity is very close to a sustainable, healthy volume of a mid-5 million total annual home sales. However, sales above 6 million, as occurred during the bubble years, are highly unlikely this year."

The PHSI in the Northeast increased 1.8% to 73.9 in December but is 5.3% below December 2009. In the Midwest the index rose 8.0% in December to 84.6 but is 5.1% below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South jumped 11.5% to an index of 101.9 and are 1.7 % above December 2009. In the West the index fell 13.2% to 105.8 and is 10.7% below a year ago.

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