A National Association of Realtors index of pending existing-home sales dropped slightly from record levels in August but remains higher than the September 2004, the Realtors trade group announced today.

The Pending Home Sales Index, derived from pending sales of existing homes, eased 0.3 percent in September to a reading of 128.8, compared to a record of 129.2 in August, and is 3.3 percent higher than in September 2004.

A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed; pending home sales typically are finalized within one or two months of signing, according to the announcement. An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, the first year to be examined. That year was the first of four consecutive record years for existing-home sales, with activity in that year being fairly close to the higher level of home sales projected for the coming decade relative to norms during the mid-1990s. A Pending Home Sales Index of 100 coincides with a historically high level of home sales.

David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtor association, said in a statement, “We’re still seeing a post-Katrina boost in home sales activity, where the needs of displaced residents are supplementing a fundamentally strong market. Aside from this temporary lift, the market is entering a period of transition in which we will see a somewhat slower but more sustainable pace of home sales – a period that is expected to be historically healthy. This will help to create a better balance between home buyer and sellers, so price appreciation should be cooler as well.”

Many post-Katrina sales in the region surrounding the disaster zone were bulk sales by companies that were obtaining housing for employees; some of those sales closed quickly in September with others expected to be recorded in data for October and November, according to the association’s announcement.

Regionally, the highest pending sales index was in the South where the index slipped 1.6 percent in September to 139.1 from a record in August, and was 6.3 percent higher than September 2004. In the Northeast, the index rose 1.8 percent to 110.4 in September and was 0.8 percent above a year ago. The Midwest index rose 0.3 percent to 119.7 in September, and was 0.4 percent below September 2004. The index in the West held even at a level of 136.7, and was 3.6 higher than a year ago.

The Pending Home Sales 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 from 2001 through 2004 closely parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months, the association announced.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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