September home sales show slight improvement nationally
But market slows in West where fewer homes are for sale
Pending home sales were little changed in September but remain well above a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, edged up 0.3% to 99.5 in September from 99.2 in August and is 14.5% above September 2011 when it was 86.9. The data reflect contracts but not closings.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said pending home sales continue to hold a higher ground.
"Home contract activity remains at an elevated level in contrast with recent years, but currently appears to be bouncing around in a narrow range," Yun said. "This means only minor movement is likely in near-term existing-home sales, but with positive underlying market fundamentals they should continue on an uptrend in 2013."
Pending home sales have risen for 17 consecutive months on a year-over-year basis, leading to the solid recovery seen in closed existing-home sales this year.
In September all regions were showing double-digit increases in contract activity from a year ago with the exception of the West, which is constrained by limited inventory.
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 1.4% to 79.3 in September and is 26.1% higher than a year ago. In the Midwest the index fell 5.8% to 89.5 in September but is 19.3% above September 2011. Pending home sales in the South increased 1.0% to an index of 111.5 in September and are 17.6% higher than a year ago.
Here in the West the index rose 4.3% in September to 106.9, but is only 0.8% above September 2011.
Housing affordability conditions are forecast to remain favorable through next year, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage staying near record lows for the balance of this year but gradually rising to 4% in the second half of 2013.
Completed existing-home sales in 2012 will total close to 4.6 million, an increase of 9%, and are projected to rise about 9% next year to nearly 5.1 million. With notably lower housing inventory, the national median existing-home price is expected to increase 6% this year and 5% in 2013.