Pending Home Sales for January Fall Sharply, but Housing Affordability is at Record Highs, Says NAR

By Anuradha Kher, Online News EditorWashington, D.C.–Pending home sales declined on the heels of a weakening economy as  some buyers waited on the sidelines for clarity on housing stimulus provisions, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in January, fell 7.7 percent to 80.4 from a downwardly revised reading of 87.1 in December, and is 6.4 percent below January 2008 when it was 85.9. The index is at the lowest level since tracking began in 2001, when the index value was set at 100. “Even with many serious potential home buyers on the sidelines waiting for passage of the stimulus bill, job losses and weak consumer confidence were a natural drag on home sales,” Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says. “We expect similarly soft home sales in the near term, but buyers are expected to respond to much improved affordability conditions and from the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit.” NAR expects the tax credit to bring in 440,000 additional buyers into the market, some of whom will be in the multifamily market.NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, says it’s ironic with the weak housing market that affordability conditions have improved dramatically. “Housing affordability is at a record high – the buying power of a typical family has risen significantly,” he says. “With the drop in interest rates, a median-income family can afford a home costing $20,000 more than a year ago for the same monthly mortgage payment. With the strong housing stimulus, we are hopeful inventory will get trimmed, which will help prices to stabilize in many areas by the end of this year.” NAR’s Housing Affordability Index (HAI) rose 13.6 percentage points in January to 166.8, a new record high.  The HAI indicates a median-income family, earning $59,800, could afford a home costing $283,400 in January with a 20 percent down-payment, assuming 25 percent of gross income is devoted to mortgage principal and interest; affordability conditions for first-time buyers with the same income and small downpayments are roughly 80 percent of that amount. A year ago, the typical family could afford a home costing $263,300. Yun adds, “Conditions have been aligning very favorably for home buyers with the exception of consumer confidence. But I am hopeful that sales will turn around by late spring and early summer because history suggests that home sales can rise even in times of job losses when housing affordability rises.”