According to the National Association of Home Builders Leading Market Index, 83 percent of the nation’s local housing markets have improved since last year. The Index – which measures how quickly individual areas are returning to previous levels of normal economic and housing activity – found that the nationwide average is 88 percent back to normal. Kevin Kelly, NAHB’s chairman, said markets are gradually returning to normal levels and, as we see more sustainable levels of job growth, more home buyers will enter the marketplace. The index looks at the average permit, price, and employment levels for 350 metropolitan areas over the past year and compares it to where they were in 2000-2003, before the financial crisis and recession. Of those 350 metro markets, 56 have returned to or exceeded their last normal levels of economic and housing activity and more than a third of all markets are operating at 90 percent of previous norms. In fact, among the index’s three components, only single-family housing permits are trailing behind. Prices and employment levels are operating at, or above, previous normal levels, while building permits are still just 43 percent of the way back. More here.
Of the 569,000 new single-family homes that were built in 2013, most had air conditioning and two or more stories, according to a joint report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. The annual report collects data on single-and multi-family housing built and sold in the last year. Among the highlights of this year’s Characteristics of New Housing Report, the average size of a new single-family home was 2,598 square feet, even bigger than during the housing-bubble era when larger homes were more popular. By comparison, the average new home built in 1983 was 1,725 square feet. New houses built last year also had more bedrooms, with 251,000 having four or more and only 59,000 having two or fewer bedrooms. Similarly, houses with three or more bathrooms outpaced those with one and one-half bathrooms or less. The majority of new homes sold in 2013 had 2-car garages and 207,000 had at least one fireplace. The data reflects recent trends indicating that the higher end of the housing market is booming, while the market for first-time buyers and smaller homes lags behind. More here.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with both conforming and jumbo balances fell again last week. Interest rates on 15-year fixed-rate and FHA-backed loans also declined. Average mortgage rates have been dropping recently and have now reached their lowest level in close to a year. Despite favorable rates, however, demand for mortgage applications was down last week. The Market Composite Index, which measures total mortgage application volume, was down 3.1 percent from the week before. The Purchase Index was down 4 percent and the Refinance Index dropped 3 percent. Still, the refinance share of total mortgage activity ticked up to 53 percent, which continues a gradual trend upward after falling below 50 percent last month. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.
Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index hit its highest monthly reading of the year in May, though it’s still trailing last year’s level. The Index measures Americans’ confidence based on their views of current economic conditions as well as their perceptions of whether the economy is getting better or worse. Last May, the index reached an all-time high, setting a record for best reading since tracking began in 2008. But following those highs, confidence fell significantly in the fall. Since then, Americans’ attitudes about the economy have continued to improve gradually, with recent gains indicating an uptick in optimism and stability. In fact, Americans are not only feeling more confident but also spending more money. Gallup reports that consumer spending reached a 6-year high in May, with reports of daily spending up to $98 – $10 higher than April and $8 up from last year. The recently released economic data suggests Americans are becoming increasingly more comfortable with their personal finances and more confident in the broader economy. More here and here.
Aimed at discovering which home features are most and least popular with home buyers this spring, a recent survey polled real-estate professionals across the country about today’s top trends. The results reveal that the typical American home buyer wants a house that doesn’t require a lot of work and has many updated features and energy-saving appliances. In fact, a move-in ready home was near the top of the list, according to surveyed real-estate agents. Upgraded windows and light fixtures were also among the top features, as was a location near public transportation and large closets. An open floor plan, granite counter tops, wood floors, and a two-story home with a bedroom on the main floor rounded out the list of hot features among home buyers. But participating agents didn’t just reveal the most desirable features, they also listed the home features least popular with today’s buyer. On that list, popcorn ceilings, carpet, small kitchens and bathrooms, low ceilings, and a lack of parking ranked high. According to the survey, home buyers also don’t like loud streets, wallpaper, and dated homes. More here.
According to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group both the housing market and the broader economy are expected to pick up speed after a slow first quarter of the year. Recent improvements in consumer spending, business capital, and employment conditions indicate the economy is gaining strength and should continue to grow during the spring and summer. The housing market, on the other hand, is a mixed picture, with home sales and new construction down from last year’s level despite improvements in Americans’ perceptions and attitudes about the market. But Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, says this year’s housing volatility will likely be nothing more than a bump in the road as residential real estate continues its return to normal. In fact, according to Duncan, there should be an uptick in housing activity as the spring and summer selling and building seasons get under way. More here.
The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking indicator that measures the number of contracts to purchase homes that are signed during the month. In April, pending home sales rose for the second straight month, climbing 0.4 percent from the previous month’s total. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said higher inventory levels are giving buyers more choices. That, along with a slight decline in mortgage rates this spring, has boosted buyer confidence and should help raise the number of closed sales in coming months, according to Yun. Regionally, the Midwest saw a 5 percent increase in contract signings, while the Northeast climbed 0.6 percent. The South and West both saw slight declines. Despite the month-over-month increase, however, contract signings are still 9.2 percent below last year’s level. The NAR expects annual existing-home sales to finish the year slightly below the 5.1 million homes sold in 2013. More here.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, average mortgage rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming and jumbo balances fell to their lowest level since June of last year. FHA-backed loans also posted their lowest mortgage rates in nearly a year. The drop continues a recent trend, which has seen mortgage rates falling for most of the past month. Despite favorable rates, however, demand for mortgage applications remained relatively flat last week, with the Market Composite Index – which measures both refinance and purchase demand – falling 1.2 percent. Both the Refinance and Purchase Index were 1 percent below the previous week. The refinance share of total mortgage activity was also flat, holding at 52 percent. Experts expect refinance demand – which spiked when mortgage rates dropped to record lows – to cool this year, as the mortgage market becomes driven by people buying homes rather than homeowners refinancing their loans. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgages. More here.
The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices – considered the leading measure of U.S. home values – showed prices up in their latest release. The report found rising home prices on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis, but also showed the gains have begun getting smaller in recent months. In fact, prices gained less than 1 percent in March, the most recent month included in the release. David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said the year-over-year changes suggest that prices are rising more slowly. According to Blitzer, annual price increases for both the 10-city and 20-city indexes slowed in the past four months and 13 cities saw annual price changes moderate in March. Still, all cities included in the report had higher prices than one year ago. Blitzer says housing indicators remain mixed, noting the recent improvement in new home sales and mortgage rates falling to near 7-month lows. However, low interest rates and moderating price increases should help affordability levels and lead to boosted buyer traffic and higher home sales this spring and summer. More here.
Sales of new single-family homes increased 6.4 percent in April, according to estimates released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The improvement was more than economists expected and – combined with upwardly revised March numbers – indicates the housing market may be poised for a rebound after a slow start to the year. Despite the gains, however, sales were still 4.2 percent below last April’s pace. The report is cause for optimism, though. Not only did sales pick up but the number of new homes for sale also spiked in April, reaching a 3-1/2 year high. The increase in the number of new homes available for sale led to a 1.3 percent year-over-year drop in the median price. In April, the median sales price for a new house was $275,800; the average price was $320,100. Regionally, sales in the Midwest hit their highest level since November 2007. New home sales also rose in the South, though they were flat in the West and down in the Northeast. More here.