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April Pending Home Sales Drop After Two Monthly Gains

Media Contact: Walter Molony / 202-383-1177 / Email

WASHINGTON (May 27, 2011) - Pending home sales fell in April with regional variations following increases in February and March, with unusual weather and economic softness adding to ongoing problems that are hobbling a recovery, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, dropped 11.6 percent to 81.9 in April from a downwardly revised 92.6 in March. The index is 26.5 percent below a cyclical peak of 111.5 in April 2010 when buyers were rushing to beat the contract deadline for the home buyer tax credit.

The data reflects contracts but not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the dip in contracts may be due to temporary factors. “The pullback in contract signings is disappointing and implies a slower than expected market recovery in upcoming months,” he said. “The economy hit a soft patch in April from sharply rising oil prices, widespread severe weather with the heaviest precipitation in 20 years, and a sudden rise in unemployment claims.”

Yun notes the growth in retail sales slowed measurably in April, while sales at furniture and home furnishing stores declined sharply. “Nonetheless, the magnitude of the fall in pending home sales is larger than can be implied by broad economic factors, so we need to see if it’s just a one-month aberration.”

Yun said tight credit is the primary long-term factor holding back the market. “No doubt the continuing excessively tight mortgage underwriting process is making the housing market recovery unnecessarily slow,” he said. “Lenders and bank regulators need to be mindful of the historically low default rates among mortgage borrowers of the past two years. A robust economic and housing market recovery cannot occur as long as banks continue to hold onto huge cash reserves.”

“We simply have to get back to sound, common-sense lending standards to provide mortgages to creditworthy borrowers who are buying homes well within their means. Bank balance sheets show rising cash reserves and declining loan balances – it’s time to loosen the purse strings,” Yun added.

The PHSI in the Northeast rose 1.7 percent to 64.5 in April but is 33.4 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest the index fell 10.4 percent to 74.1 and is 30.2 percent below April 2010. Pending home sales in the South dropped 17.2 percent to an index of 91.3 in April and are 27.0 percent below a year ago. In the West the index declined 8.9 percent to 89.1 and is 16.9 percent below April 2010.

“Even with very favorable affordability conditions, job growth and a pent-up demand from abnormally low household formation during the past three years, the recovery will continue to be uneven and sluggish given the ongoing credit constraints,” Yun said.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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*The Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes. A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed, though the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing.

The index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.

An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined as well as the first of five consecutive record years for existing-home sales; it coincides with a level that is historically healthy.

NOTE: Existing-home sales for May will be reported June 21 and the next Pending Home Sales Index will be released June 29; all release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.

Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org. This and other news releases are posted in the News Media section. Statistical data in this release, other tables and surveys also may be found by clicking on Research.

REALTOR® is a registered collective membership mark which may be used only by real estate professionals who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. Not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. All REALTORS® are members of NAR.