Last Updated Apr 26, 2011 5:01 PM EDT
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator, rose 3.5 percent to 92.2 based on contracts signed in November from a downwardly revised 89.1 in October. The index is 5.0 percent below a reading of 97.0 in November 2009. The data reflects purchase contracts signed and not actual home closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.
(The index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months. There is a closer relationship between annual index changes - from the same month a year earlier - and year-ago changes in sales performance than with month-to-month comparisons. An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined as well as the first of five consecutive record years for existing-home sales.)
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said sales activity is benefiting from historically high housing affordability - in other words, low prices combined with extremely low mortgage interest rates.
"In addition to exceptional affordability conditions, steady improvements in the economy are helping bring buyers into the market," he said in the release. "But further gains are needed to reach normal levels of sales activity."
As you might imagine, Yun believes that 2011 will be a better year for real estate.
"If we add 2 million jobs as expected in 2011, and mortgage rates rise only moderately, we should see existing-home sales rise to a higher, sustainable volume," Yun said. "Credit remains tight, but if lenders return to more normal, safe underwriting standards for creditworthy buyers, there would be a bigger boost to the housing market and spillover benefits for the broader economy."
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is forecast to rise gradually to 5.3 percent around the end of 2011. At the same time, unemployment is projected to drop to 9.2 percent, barring another economic stall.
Yun said that the U.S. has added 27 million people over the past 10 years. "However, the number of jobs is roughly the same as it was in 2000 when existing-home sales totaled 5.2 million, which appears to be a sustainable figure given the current level of employment," he explained.
"All the indicator trends are pointing to a gradual housing recovery," Yun said. "Home price prospects will vary depending largely upon local job market conditions. The national median home price, however, is expected to remain stable even with a continuing flow of distressed properties coming onto the market, as long as there is a steady demand of financially healthy home buyers."
Existing-home sales are projected to rise about 8 percent to 5.2 million in 2011 from 4.8 million in 2010, with an additional gain of 4 percent in 2012. The median existing-home price could rise 0.6 percent to $173,700 in 2011 from $172,700 in 2010, which was essentially unchanged from 2009.
"As we gradually work off the excess housing inventory, supply levels will eventually come more in-line with historic averages, and could allow home prices to rise modestly in the range of 2 to 3 percent in 2012," Yun said.
New-home sales are estimated to rise 24 percent to 392,000 in 2011, but would remain well below historic averages, while housing starts are forecast to rise 21 percent to 716,000.
Yun sees Gross Domestic Product growing 2.5 percent in 2011, and the Consumer Price Index rising 2.3 percent.
More on MoneyWatch:
- Top Remodeling Trends for 2011
- Housing Prices Rebounding Here
- Tea Party: Don't Let Renters Vote
- Are You Getting Screwed by Your Lender?
- Help For Homeowners: 4 Million Homeowners Ask For Help
- Foreclosure Process Shows Mortgage Lending Isn't The Only Problem
- What Does Main Street Know That Wall Street Doesn't?
- Real Estate Crisis Continues - Non-Residential Construction to Fall 20% by End of 2010
- Jobs, Small Businesses, Payrolls, and the Economy
- Loan Modification Hell: Join The Club
- Loan Modification Hell: New Solutions To Avoid Losing Your Home
Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.com and The Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and is Chief Content Strategist at RealtyJoin.com, a community for real estate investors.