Existing Home Sales Hit High For The Year

Sales of previously owned homes rose 2.4 percent in September, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales – which include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops – are now just 1.7 percent below last year’s level and at their highest pace yet this year. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said low mortgage rates and stabilizing prices led to the increase. Yun also said, because there are fewer investors searching for houses to buy, traditional home buyers are finding a less competitive market. But though this is a good time for buyers, falling inventory through the winter will likely affect the number of available choices. In fact, the total number of homes for sale at the end of September was down 1.3 percent from the month before, though it is still 6 percent higher than last year. Also in the report, the median price of previously owned homes sold in September was $209,700. Regionally, sales were up in the Northeast, West, and South and down in the Midwest. More here.

New Home Construction Rebounds In September

Each month, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development collect estimates of both the number of new homes that began construction and the number of building permits authorized during the month. In September, both housing starts and permits increased from the month before. In fact, new residential construction was up 6.3 percent and is now nearly 18 percent above last year’s level. Permits – which are an indicator of future home construction – rose 1.5 percent. New home construction has been somewhat volatile this year. But, despite a slow start, housing construction reached a post-recession high in July and remains well above last year’s estimates. Also in the report, single-family housing starts were up 1.1 percent in September while permits to build single-family homes remained relatively flat. This indicates that much of the month’s gains were due to improvement in the multi-family sector. More here.

Builders Still Confident In New Home Market

The most recent Housing Market Index from the National Association of Home Builders found builders less optimistic about the market for newly built single-family homes than they were in September. The index – which measures builders’ confidence on a scale where any number above 50 indicates more builders view conditions as good than poor – fell five points to a reading of 54 in October. David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist, said the decline wasn’t surprising. The index was at a nine-year high in September, making the drop somewhat expected. But, according to Crowe, builders are still positive about the housing market and the combination of historically low mortgage rates, steady job gains, and significant pent up demand all point to continued growth. In October, however, all three components of the index registered losses, including current sales conditions, future sales, and traffic of prospective buyers. Regionally, three-month moving averages show the Northeast and Midwest flat, the West down a point, and the South up two points. More here.

Popular New Home Features Vary By Region

A new analysis of the 2013 Census Bureau Survey of Construction looks at the various types of new single-family homes being built across the country and breaks down the popular preferences, price differences, and design features by region. The study, from the National Association of Home Builders, found a great deal of variance in the types of homes people prefer in different areas of the country. For example, though porches are the most popular outdoor house feature nationwide, patios are more popular in the West and West South Central region and decks are the top choice for single-family homes built in New England. Siding was another area where there were vast differences in preference depending on region. Nationally, vinyl siding is used in close to 31 percent of new homes but brick is more popular in the South and stucco was the most popular material in the West. Kevin Kelly, NAHB’s chairman, said it’s fascinating to see how newly built homes can vary significantly not only in design features and building materials, but also in terms of lot size, financing methods, and price from region to region. More here.

Mortgage Rates Drop To 16-Month Low

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, average mortgage rates fell again last week, dropping for the third-consecutive week and hitting their lowest level since June 2013. Mortgage rates were down across all loan categories but 30-year fixed-rate loans with conforming loan balances and mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration saw the most significant declines. Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, said growing concerns about weak economic growth in Europe likely caused the sharp drop in interest rates. Refinance activity benefited from the drop, though, climbing 11 percent from the week before. Demand for applications for loans to buy homes also rose, increasing 1 percent from one week earlier. Altogether, total mortgage loan application volume was up 5.6 percent for the week. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers more than 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications. More here.

Typical Mortgage Payment Still Affordable

Following the financial crisis and housing crash, home prices fell and mortgage rates dropped to historic lows. This, of course, boosted affordability conditions and led to a very attractive market for potential home buyers. Since then, however, prices have rebounded. In fact, according to recent data, the median home price for a single-family home is now $220,600, up from $160,000 a few years ago. But, despite the rise in home prices, mortgage rates have remained low and, because of this, buying a home is still quite affordable for prospective home buyers. The National Association of Realtors says the typical monthly mortgage payment for home buyers purchasing a middle-priced home with a 20 percent down payment is $867. This is 15.9 percent of monthly gross family income, which is a significant drop compared to the 21.3 percent average over the past three decades. In short, this means that the typical monthly mortgage payment is more affordable now than it has been for most of the past 30 years, making now an excellent time to buy a house. More here.

Rent Rising Faster Than Home Prices

Over the past several months, home prices have been rising at an ever slower pace. And, though the majority of metropolitan areas are still experiencing price increases, those increases are becoming smaller as the housing market continues to stabilize. At the same time, the cost of renting has also been rising in markets all across the country. In fact, according to Trulia’s most recent Price and Rent Monitors, apartment rent was up nearly 7 percent year-over-year, with some cities seeing increases of up to 15 percent. Home prices, on the other hand, rose just 0.8 percent in September from the month before. And, though they are up 6.4 percent from last September, that’s a significant drop from the 10.4 percent gain registered in September 2013. In other words, though housing affordability has been affected by the price increases of the past few years, the rental market has also been experiencing sharp gains. And now, apartment rent increases are accelerating at a faster pace than the cost of a single-family home. More here.