Monday, June 25, 2012

California Home Sales Continue to Rebound

-- Has the U.S. housing industry finally turned the corner?

Possibly, but don't bet your three bedroom ranch on it. At least not yet.

Recent indicators do point to a rebound. The latest positive data, from the California Association of Realtors, shows that pending home sales in the most populous state -- and one of the states hardest hit by the economic downturn -- rose by double digits from May 2011 to May 2012.

May was the fourth-straight month of double-digit housing sales gains in California, on a year-over-year basis.

California saw a 11.2% spike in home sales over the May-to-May time period, which is good news for homeowners. That's welcome news not just from San Diego to San Francisco, but all over the country. Why? Because California, given its huge population base, is widely considered a leading indicator for the entire U.S. housing market.

"Despite a slowdown in economic growth in recent months, sales in California remain strong as record low mortgage rates and favorable home prices continue to fuel demand in the housing market," said LeFrancis Arnold, CAR's president, in a release. "The strong results in pending sales -- double-digit year-over-year gains in the last nine out of 10 months -- suggest solid housing market performance for the state in the upcoming months."

California realtors aren't alone in taking a bullish stance on housing. 

The Commerce Department data on new home sales released on Monday showed a 7.6% rise in May from April, or 369,000 homes. It was the best month for new homes sales since April 2010 when the expiring first-time homebuyer tax credit was nearing expiration leading to increased, albeit short-term, buying.

Recent National Association of Realtors data and commentary has been similarly encouraging.
Year-over-year U.S. home sales were up 9.6% from May 2011 to May 2012, the NAR reported. A 1.5% decline in nationwide home sales from April to May that the NAR tracked might not be cause for concern, either.

"The slight pullback in monthly home sales is more likely due to supply constraints rather than softening demand," says Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "Even with the monthly decline, home sales have moved markedly higher with 11 consecutive months of gains over the same month a year earlier."

One reason why home prices are climbing again is an interesting one -- "home for sale" inventories are low. There are two schools of thought on this trend. Either homeowners don't want to sell in a weak market, or banks and lenders are finally making a significant dent in home foreclosures, thus taking more of those homes off the market.

"Inventory shortages in certain areas have been building all year," adds NAR's Yun. "There are broad-based shortages of inventory in the lower price ranges in much of the country except the Northeast, and in the West supply is extremely tight in all price ranges except for the upper end. Realtors in Western states have been calling for an expedited process to get additional foreclosed properties onto the market because they have more buyers than available property."

Those are all good signs for the U.S. housing market, though the sustainability of the housing rebound will be more important than any individual, albeit encouraging, data point.

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