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Find out why pending home sales are flat

Northeast, South gain despite cold weather

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Pending home sales were essentially unchanged in January, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Monthly gains in pending home sales in the South and Northeast were offset by declines in the West and Midwest.

While the gains in the Northeast may seem odd given the Northeast was hit hardest by winter weather in December and January, Walter Molony at the National Association of Realtors said given the smaller size of the region as a portion of all housing and the modest increase, not much can be read into that.

The South meanwhile saw gains in spite of cold weather in Dixie as well, and there were sharper declines in the West, where there is a larger portion of the housing market and where the weather has not been a factor.

The NAR pending homes sales index edged up 0.1% to 95.0 in January from an upwardly revised 94.9 in December, but is 9.0% below January 2013 when it was 104.4.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said that factors which dampened December activity also were at play in January, including the challenge of affordabilty.

“Ongoing disruptive weather patterns in much of the U.S. inhibited home shopping,” he said. “Limited inventory also is playing a role, especially in the West, while credit remains tight and affordability isn’t as favorable as it was a year ago.”

The December index reading was the lowest since November 2011, when it stood at 94.6.

"Pending home sales are existing home sales that have gone to contract (similar to the new home sales data reported) but have not yet closed, thus they tend to lead the existing home sales report by a month or two. Weather was blamed for much of the recent weakness in home sales activity but this morning's report suggests that there may still be months of light activity to come even as weather (hopefully) improves," said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist with Sterne Agee.

Existing-home sales are expected to be weak in the first quarter, while prices continue to rise from limited inventory.

“Increasing new home construction can quickly solve two problems, producing more inventory and taming price growth,” Yun said.

The NAR pending home sales index in the Northeast rose 2.3% to 79.0 in January, but is 5.3% below a year ago. In the Midwest the index declined 2.5% to 92.9 in January, and is 9.3% lower than January 2013.

Pending home sales in the South increased 3.5% to an index of 111.2 in January, and is 5.5% below a year ago. The index in the West fell 4.8% in January to 84.2, and is 17.5% below January 2013.

Total existing-home sales are projected at just over 5 million in 2014, slightly below the volume recorded last year. The national median existing-home price is forecast to grow in the range of 5-6% this year.

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