Housing activity in the U.S. kicked off the fall season slower than anticipated.
Pending home sales, a leading indicator of the health of the housing market, fell in September, reversing an increase a month earlier. The National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Pending Home Sales Index, which tracks the number of homes that are under contract to be sold, dropped 2.3% in September from August — a surprising dip. Analysts expected a 0.5% increase in sales, according to Bloomberg consensus estimates.
“Contract transactions slowed a bit in September and are showing signs of a calmer home price trend, as the market is running comfortably ahead of pre-pandemic activity,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Some potential buyers have momentarily paused their home search with intentions to resume in 2022.”
Contract signings were down 8% from the same month a year earlier. And pending sales were down in all four regions in the U.S. from August and September 2020. The Northeast region recorded the largest dip in activity, posting a 3.2% from August.
The results show that sales activity may actually slow down into the fall since pending sales precede actual sales. In September, existing home sales rose 7% from a month earlier, the NAR reported last week.
"Although home sales activity has retreated from its earlier highs, it is stabilizing at a level of activity that is above pre-pandemic pace thanks to a combination of eager young buyers, lingering pandemic savings, and low mortgage rates creating opportunity despite ongoing home price gains,” Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, said in a statement prior to the results.
The slowdown in activity could help to put the brakes on home price growth. Yun recently noted that home price growth is moderating from its 20%-plus increases. Median existing-home price for all housing types in September hit $352,800, up 13.3% from a year ago, but slightly down from the previous month and the third straight month of declines, according to the NAR. In August, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index remained the same from a month earlier. Even so, data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve released Wednesday said the median U.S. home price just passed $400,000 for the first-time ever.
“As rising home prices are paired with rising mortgage rates, which have already jumped above 3%, we could see mortgage payments that require larger shares of buyer paychecks, especially if incomes grow more slowly,” said Hale. “This could cause some buyers to opt out, dampening demand and ultimately causing sales activity and home price growth to slow."
Amanda Fung is an editor at Yahoo Finance.