All major regions saw gains in contract activity last month except for the Midwest, which saw a meagre decline, the pending homes index from the National Association of Realtors shows.
The index, a forward looking indicator based on contract signings, increased by 5.1% to 116.3 in April from an upwardly revised 110.7 in March and is now 4.6% above April 2015 when it was 111.2.
After last month’s gain, the index has now increased year on year for 20 consecutive months and Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said that vast gains in the South and West propelled pending sales in April to their highest level since February 2006.
‘The ability to sign a contract on a home is slightly exceeding expectations this spring even with the affordability stresses and inventory squeezes affecting buyers in a number of markets,’ he explained.
‘The building momentum from the over 14 million jobs created since 2010 and the prospect of facing higher rents and mortgage rates down the road appear to be bringing more interested buyers into the market,’ he added.
On the topic of mortgage rates, which have remained below 4% in 16 of the past 17 months. Yun pointed out that it remains to be seen how long they will stay this low. Along with rent growth, rising gas price and the fading effects of last year’s cheap oil on consumer prices could edge up inflation and push rates higher. For now, he foresees mortgage rates continuing to hover around 4% in coming months, but inflation could potentially surprise the market and cause rates to increase suddenly.
‘Even if rates rise soon, sales have legs for further expansion this summer if housing supply increases enough to give buyers an adequate number of affordable choices during their search,’ he added.
Following the housing market’s best first quarter of existing sales since 2007, Yun expects sales this year to climb above earlier estimates and be around 5.41 million, a 3% boost from 2015. After accelerating to 6.8% a year ago, national median existing home price growth is forecast to slightly moderate to between 4% and 5%.
A breakdown of the figures show that in the Northeast it climbed 1.2% to 98.2 in April, and is now 10.1% above a year ago. In the Midwest the index declined slightly by 0.6% to 112.9 in April, but is still 2% above April 2015.
Pending home sales in the South jumped 6.8% to an index of 133.9 in April and are 5.1% higher than last April. The index in the West rose 11.4% in April to 106.2 and is now 2.8% above a year ago.
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