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NAR: Existing home sales will see best year since 2006

Sales to increase 3.5% this year

Single-family existing home sales are set to see their best year since 2006, driven by robust job gains and improving household confidence, according to the forecast from the National Association of Realtors.

While existing home sales are increasing, low levels of supply and rising affordability concerns are creating headwinds for sales and threatening the low homeownership rate.

The first quarter came in with the best sales pace for existing homes in a decade; NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun expects that pace to continue, finishing off 2017 with 5.62 million sales, the best pace since 2006. This would represent an increase of 3.5% from 2016.

And home sales aren’t the only thing predicted to rise. NAR also forecasts an increase of 5% in existing home prices in 2017.

However, starter home shortage continue to plague the housing market and discourage would-be first time homebuyers.

“We have been under the 50-year average of single-family housing starts for 10 years now,” Yun said. “Limited lots, labor shortages, tight construction lending and higher lumber costs are impeding the building industry’s ability to produce more single-family homes.”

“There’s little doubt first-time buyer participation would improve and the homeownership rate would rise if there was simply more inventory,” he said.

Yun predicted new home starts will rise 8.4% to 1.27 million in 2017. While an increase from the current pace, this is still 1.5 million homes below the amount needed to make up for insufficient building in recent years. New home sales are also expected to rise 8.4% from last year to 620,000 sales.

Jonathan Spader, Joint Center for Housing Studies senior research associate at Harvard University, joined Yun at the 2017 Realtors Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo to discuss the 2017 forecast. He explained the homeownership rate will hover between 61% and 65.1% as it faces headwinds such as an aging population, changes in family type and increasing diversity by race and ethnicity.

“Stagnant household incomes, rising rental costs, student loan debt and limited supply have all contributed to slower purchasing activity,” Spader said. “When the homeownership rate stabilizes, there will be an increase in homeowner households. Young and minority households’ ability to reach the market will play a big role in how much the actual rate can rise in coming years.”

But while home sales continue to rise to decade highs, economic growth is at its slowest since World War II. Mark Calabria, chief economist and assistant to Vice President Mike Pence, explained at the conference the housing market cannot be strong without a solid economic foundation.

“A strong labor market will drive a strong housing market, but you can't have a strong housing market without a strong economic foundation,” Calabria said. “The recovery has been uneven with roughly 70 counties making up roughly half of all job growth.”

And while the first quarter gross domestic product did come in at a disappointing 0.7% growth, the second quarter will see an increase to about 2.2%, Yun said.

Yun predicts two more rate hikes this year to bring mortgage rates to an average 4.3% by the end of 2017, and climbing towards 5% in 2018.

“There was a lot of uncertainty at the start of the year, but a very strong first quarter sets the stage for a modest sales increase compared to last year,” Yun said. “However, prices are still rising too fast in many areas and are outpacing incomes.”

“That is why housing starts need to rise to alleviate supply shortages,” he said. “There will be more sales if there’s a meaningful bump in new and existing inventory.”

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