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Friday, December 31, 2010

Index of pending U.S. home sales rises 3.5% in November

Index of pending home sales rises 3.5% in November

The increase from October was led by an 18.2% jump for contracts in the West as reduced prices and low interest rates drove deals.

By Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times

December 31, 2010


Led by a jump in the West, an index of pending home sales increased in November, the National Assn. of Realtors said, adding that the forward-looking index of contracts signed indicates that the market will improve gradually in 2011.

There was a 3.5% pickup in the contract index to 92.2 in November compared with October, but the index was down 5% from the same period a year earlier. Contracts typically take one or two months to convert into closed sales.

Deals are being driven by reduced prices and low interest rates that have created a historically high level of home affordability, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the association.

Further gains in sales are still needed for the market to reach normal levels of sales activity, but the uptick is encouraging, he said.

"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.

In the West, the index jumped 18.2% month over month in November and slightly surpassed the number of agreements signed a year earlier, the association said. It was easily the biggest rise in any region; the Northeast gained 1.8% while the Midwest and South reported declines of 4.2% and 1.8%, respectively, in the index.

Home prices will vary locally, Yun said, but national median prices should remain stable even with a continuing flow of distressed properties coming to market. The median U.S. price in the third quarter was $177,000 for previously owned homes and $227,700 for new homes. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is forecast to rise gradually to 5.3% around the end of 2011, Yun said, and unemployment should drop to 9.2%.

"All the indicator trends are pointing to a gradual housing recovery," Yun said.

The pending home sales index is based on a national sample. An index of 100 equals the average level of contract activity during 2001.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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