Ahead of the Bell: US home sales

US home sales likely increased in December; 2014 activity still below 2013 sales totals

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Association of Realtors reports on January sales of existing homes Monday at 10 a.m. Eastern.

SALES DIP: Economists forecast that sales fell a slight 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5 million homes, according to a survey by data firm FactSet. Purchases rose 2.4 percent to 5.04 million in December. But over the course of 2014, sales fell 3.1 percent to 4.93 million.

WINTER HAS COME: Home sales have chilled since the start of 2015. Relatively low mortgage rates and steady job growth have yet to spur more activity from buyers and sellers, raising the possibility of either a spring sales rush or a second straight year of numbness in the real estate market. Weak sales in 2014 had set up expectations of a strong rebound in 2015, yet signs of that resurgence remain flighty.

Few properties are coming onto the market. Just 4.4 months of supply were listed for sale at the end of December, compared with an average of 5.2 months during 2014, according to the association. And builders haven't ramped up construction. Housing starts slid 2 percent in January according to a report from the Commerce Department last week.

The limited supply inflates prices and may be leading potential buyers to sit it out until they have more choices. The improving jobs landscape lends credence to that theory. Employers added about 1 million jobs in the past three months alone, an increase in paychecks that often spills over into the residential market.

That has not happened yet and weekly mortgage applications fell 13.2 percent, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported last Wednesday.

Mother Nature may also be taking its toll as people continue to dig themselves out from under major snow storms, particularly in the Northeast.

Buyer traffic for newly built homes slowed in February, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo sentiment index.

Nasty weather in the Midwest and Northeast likely kept would-be buyers away, further crimping sales heading into March and beginning of the spring buying season.

The number of signed contracts in December fell 3.7 percent, the Realtors said in a separate report, suggesting that sales will remain under pressure in the coming months.

Possibly pressuring sales further, mortgage rates have crept upward for the past two weeks.

Average 30-year fixed rates were 3.76 percent last week, according to the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. The average has risen from 3.59 percent at the start of February. Still, the current levels remain below the 4.33 percent average from a year ago.

View Comments (121)